A SURGE in job creation has fuelled hopes of a faster than expected economic recovery.
Employment growth in Ireland has been outstripping every other country in Europe, as tens of thousands moved from dole queues to the workplace in the past year.
Experts say the war on unemployment is slowly being won, with more than 1.9 million people now at work – the highest number since the end of 2009.
A combination of home-grown companies and foreign direct investment (FDI) helped more than 60,000 people find jobs last year.
The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) is likely to update its growth forecasts for last year and said that it expects the momentum will continue. Figures show the jobless rate fell sharply to 12.1pc at the end of 2013 from 12.7pc in the autumn.
The new jobs appear to be spread largely across the board, and the Central Statistics Office (CSO) said unemployment fell in every region bar one.
Ireland has the highest rate of job creation in Europe, according to the latest figures available from Eurostat up to the end of September, and had the largest unemployment rate fall last year.
According to the latest CSO statistics, of the 61,000 new jobs, more than 54,000 were full-time posts.
The ESRI's John FitzGerald said the growth in employment for 2013 was bigger than forecast in the organisation's last quarterly economic update.
"We thought employment growth would slow down in 2014, but certainly you wouldn't say that on the basis of the last quarter figures for last year," Mr FitzGerald told the Irish Independent.
"There's a momentum there which I think will continue."
The unemployment rate has now dropped for six consecutive quarters from a peak of 15.1pc at the end of 2011.
Economists are predicting the jobless rate will now fall below the eurozone average – currently at 12pc – for the first time since 2008.
The 12.1pc rate remains high by comparison with many other countries, but it appears to be falling at a faster pace. In the UK, unemployment was 7.2pc in December, down from 7.6pc in the previous quarter.
Job creation seems to be spread across the board. Of the 14 job sectors identified by the CSO, 10 recorded increases in employment over the last year.
And the positive trend is not just happening in Dublin, with every region bar one enjoying a fall in the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate in the mid-east increased over the year by 0.1 percentage points to 12.5pc.
Dublin, at 10pc, has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, with the south-east recording the highest at 15.5pc.
He said growth in employment was driving the fall in unemployment, rather than purely emigration.
"It may be an issue in some cohorts. But it is the employment figures that are doing the job," he said.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the Government's efforts are paying off.
"We can afford at this stage to be far more confident about our prospects than at any time since the crisis began," he said.
The number of men out of work fell by 37,300, or 19pc, to 158,900 over the year to the final quarter of 2013, while female unemployment decreased by 4,100, or 4.2pc, to 94,300.
The long-term unemployment rate fell to 7.2pc from 8.2pc. The number of self-employed increased by 33,400, or more than 11pc, although the CSO said more than half of this was due to how it categorises workers in the agricultural sector.
The largest increases in employment were in agriculture, which rose 29.8pc; accommodation and food services, up 14.7pc; and professional, scientific and technical activities which increased by 12.7pc.
Davy Stockbrokers said the figures point to a significant pick-up.
"2013 was a real turning point for the labour market – the first year since 2007 of rises in full-time employment. Overall employment was up 2.4pc on 2012," said David McNamara.