Kenny: 2014 will be year for jobs
The Government has predicted a return to the Celtic Tiger years with a huge influx of new jobs by the end of the decade.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he hoped to see a return to full employment by 2020, which could see the country's current crippling unemployment rate of 12.5% more than halved to below 6%.
"By 2020, we aim to replace all of the 330,000 jobs that were lost during the economic crisis between 2008 and 2011 with new jobs, and in doing so, more than halve the rate of unemployment," Mr Kenny said.
"We will also ensure that the mistakes of the past are never repeated."
Launching the Government's first post-bailout economic plan, the Taoiseach dubbed 2014 "the year for jobs".
He pledged a strong push to make the economy more competitive, to boost investment and help Irish businesses grow.
Mr Kenny described the medium-term economic strategy as a roadmap for the years ahead that will provide certainty to both the Irish people and investors.
"I want to see to it that Government will stay the course, will work very hard, will make the decisions that are necessary to ensure a long-lasting and rich recovery - in jobs for our country and for our people," he said.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said employment levels are expected to return to around 2 million by 2016, and exceed 2.1 million by 2020.
He said this was a clear objective of Government.
While baseline projections predict the unemployment rate to fall to around 8% by the end of the decade, Mr Gilmore said he was hopeful it would drop even further.
To achieve full employment, which was last enjoyed in Ireland before the onset of the financial crisis, the rate has to fall below 6%.
"The document shows that employment can grow over the next six years back to the level of the Celtic Tiger, some 2.1 million jobs," Mr Gilmore said.
"But this time we will be talking about real and sustainable jobs based on an export-led economy and not on a speculative bubble economy."
The Government also expects to drive down its debt levels over the next six years - from the current 124% of gross domestic product (GDP) to 93%.
The European average of Government debt currently stands at around 94%.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Michael Noonan also signalled an easier than expected budget next year.
Ireland has been forced to endure seven austerity budgets over the last five years.
The Government in the past insisted the 2.5 billion euro worth of tax hikes and spending cuts for Budget 2014, unveiled in October, would be the last of the difficult budgets.
A further adjustment of 2 billion euro had been pencilled in for next year for Budget 2015.
But Mr Noonan said that may change.
"The adjustment is 2 billion euro between tax and expenditure," Mr Noonan said.
"We'll see how 2014 goes. Our tax figures are quite strong already.
"Although our deficit target is of 2013 of 7.5%, we're going to come in much better than that at the end of December.
"So the target is 2 billion euro, but there is material around to suggest that the target will be less than that when we come to 2014."
The plan has been met with a mixed response, with the Small Firms Association claiming it is short in detail.
Acting director Avine McNally said: "It is vital that Government works with small business to put the right policies in place, as this vital sector will drive growth in the wider economy, more so than any other.
"The small business sector given the right economic conditions will generate the growth needed to create jobs and overcome our debt burden. Small business can lead the way in helping Ireland to recover faster and stronger."
Trade union Siptu added that the strategy stops short of prescribing specific key actions in many areas.
Economist Marie Sherlock said firm efforts need to be made for tackling household debt and job creation.
"In that context, the plans to be published by the individual government departments in the New Year will be critical," Ms Sherlock said.
"These must make the difference between general assurances on fixing the banking system and repairing the private debt crisis and actually ensuring that progress can be made in removing these obstacles to economic recovery."
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein's finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said he had little confidence in the plan.
He dubbed it a glossy report that promised much but delivered little.