THOUSANDS of jobs remain at risk in the ailing retail sector, as sales dropped off during the traditional peak festive shopping season.
The latest figures show purchases were down slightly, dropping by around 1pc during the Christmas month, compared with December 2011.
The Cental Statistics Office (CSO) statistics reveal department store sales were up more than 6pc, and electrical goods were up 4pc.
But a sharp fall off in furniture and lighting sales resulted in overall sales figures slumping.
Mark Fielding, spokesman for business group the Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association (ISME), warned the retail sector remained in "dire straits" with the volume of sales down during a peak period.
"The continued downturn is as a result of shoppers curbing spending due to uncertainty, as many have suffered pay freezes or job losses," he warned.
Mr Fielding said sales slumps were placing thousands of jobs at risk and called upon the Government to bring in a retail strategy group to help tackle commercial rates and unrealistic high rents.
Meanwhile, the number of visitors to Ireland from North America hit the one million mark last year for the first time since 2007.
Holiday trips increased in the final three months of the year – with a 5pc rise to 1.4 million. Overall the number of trips to Ireland rose slightly to 6,517,200 during 2012.
"While trips abroad by Irish residents were also up slightly to 6,325,800.
Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said it was a record year for long-haul markets such as the US with visitors up 6pc compared with 2011, while there was also a rise in visitors from mainland Europe, including Germany.
However, tourism from our nearest neighbour, the UK, slumped 4pc.