AROUND 20,000 jobs have been created in the private sector in the last year as the unemployment rate dropped for the first time since the recession hit.
New employment figures show some positive signs, with an annual drop in the numbers out of work for the first time since 2005.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) said there had been a modest decline of 3,600 in the numbers out of work to 324,500 in the third quarter of 2012.
However, the numbers working also fell by 5,800 to 1.841 million – and there was a marginal drop in the total labour force to 2.165 million.
The drop in the labour force – a measure of the people either working or seeking work – has been put down to factors like emigration and retirements.
Public sector employment has fallen by 16,200 in the last year but the CSO estimated that private sector employment has gone up by around 20,000, the first such increase in years.
Overall, the number of employees in the country rose although the number of self-employed fell.
And the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell slightly from 14.9pc to 14.8pc.
But almost 60pc of those out of work are now long-term unemployed for over a year, with men outnumbering women by two to one.
The biggest drops in employment were in the construction and transport and storage sectors, which each recorded 7pc falls, but the CSO noted this was nothing like the job losses seen in previous years.
Areas which saw job growth included the professional and scientific sector and agriculture, forestry and fishing, both of which saw a 4pc increase.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) said the detailed figures were quite chilling.
"Again, we see a further fall in employment and even less people at work in the economy. This downward trend has not altered, which makes it abundantly clear that official policy must change in next week's budget," said ICTU economist Paul Sweeney.
He warned that total investment in the Irish economy is now at the very bottom of the European Union, below even Greece.
The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises (ISME) association said the unemployment figures, and particularly the long-term ones, were a national disgrace.
"The Budget must be used innovatively to prime the pump with a financial package that subsidises additional jobs created. The cost will be more than repaid to the exchequer in extra consumer spend," said ISME chief executive Mark Fielding.
Employers' group IBEC agreed that job creation must be an absolute priority in the Budget, and said that the private sector job growth seen in the new CSO figures was welcome.