UNEMPLOYMENT is continuing to drop, with the latest Central Statistics Office figures showing there were 3,300 fewer people on the seasonally adjusted Live Register in December than a month earlier.
Overall there were 28,322 fewer people signing on at the end of December than a year earlier with a total tally of 395,411 on the Live Register.
The unemployment rate of 12.4pc is down from 14pc a year ago, and is now at its lowest rate since June 2009, said Davy stockbrokers analyst David McNamara.
"Encouragingly, long-term claimants (over one year) are now leaving the Live Register in greater numbers," he said.
The Irish unemployment rate is now close to the eurozone average of 12.1pc compared with rates of around 27pc in Spain and Greece, new Eurostat figures also show. However, it is far higher than the 7pc jobless rate in the United States and 7.4pc in the UK.
The craft and related sector which mainly includes construction workers remains the biggest group on the Live Register.
However, the numbers of these workers signing on fell by nearly 14pc over the last 12 months.
Professionals also saw a 9pc fall in the numbers on the Live Register over the last year.
Alan McQuaid of Merrion Economics said that the seasonally adjusted Live Register had now seen its 18th monthly decrease in a row.
"It does now appear the jobless rate has peaked, and we are looking for it to fall back to 12.2pc this year from 13.2pc in 2013 which itself was the lowest level since 2009," he said.
The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association said that reducing the high level of long-term unemployment should be the Government's new year resolution, and it was vital to sort out welfare traps that hindered job creation.
"Anomalies in the welfare system must be addressed immediately to create a business environment where it is always economically advantageous for people to work," said ISME chief executive Mark Fielding.
Welcoming the drop in the unemployment figure, Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Abu Dhabi said: "The more important figure, the unemployment rate, is down to 12.4pc and that's significant -- but it's still too high."
"It's heading in the right direction and I'm happy to note that but we still have a long way to go."