Irish businesses are increasingly pessimistic about their outlook, with 59pc of them now branding the economic environment as either "poor" or "very poor".
A survey of 600 small and medium-sized companies around the country undertaken in the third quarter by business representative body ISME found that the number of firms making workers redundant has increased, while half of all companies have reported a decline in their turnover.
In the second quarter of this year, 54pc of respondents had described the business environment as "poor" or "very poor".
The survey found that the retail sector remains the most depressed, followed by construction, services, manufacturing and distribution. Nearly 40pc of companies expect the business environment to deteriorate in the next 12 months, while 26pc expect an improvement.
But despite well-publicised issues regarding credit availability, just 12pc of SMEs said access to credit was their biggest immediate concern.
Firms involved in the export sector remained more optimistic than their domestically focused counterparts.
"With the exception of the export sector, the last quarter remained very difficult for SMEs, with little sign of improvement," said ISME's head of research Jim Curran.
"The huge concerns over economic uncertainty are having a devastating impact, particularly on domestic-based businesses, with business optimism deteriorating for the third quarter in a row," he added.
The Government's three-year budget plan to be published next month also needed to provide "certainty and clarity" for business owners and the public, said Mr Curran.