THE number of people taking out a mortgage is back to levels last seen at the peak of the property boom.
Some 35,000 people drew down a home loan last year, with half of these first-time buyers, new figures from the banks shows.
The number of draw-downs in the last three months of last year was the highest since 2008.
The new figures come as president of the European Central Bank ruled out a rise in eurozone rates this year.
Mario Draghi said in Frankfurt: "Based on today's data I can see very few chances that interest rates could be raised at all this year."
Figures from the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland show that there were more than 5,000 additional mortgages drawn down last year, compared with 2016.
The value of the mortgages issued were €7.3bn, up 29pc from the previous year.
The figures come as builders rush to meet soaring demand for property. The average value of loan draw-downs last year was €208,000, a 9pc increase on 2016.
Banking analyst with Investec Bank, Owen Callan, said two-thirds of the rise in mortgage lending was due to increased demand for loans, and one-third related to house price increases.
Some 17,400 of those having a mortgage issued to them were first-time buyers last year. Another 10,600 were movers, with just over 3,000 switchers.
First-time buyers are the fastest growing segment of the mortgage market, with a rise 24pc in their numbers in 2017.
Some of these were aided by the State's help-to-buy scheme, but the majority of homes bought by first-timers were existing properties that are not covered by the scheme.
Analyst at Goodbody Stockbrokers, Dermot O'Leary, said around 3,000 new homes were bought by first-time buyers last year, up from around 2,000 the previous year.
This means the help-to-buy scheme can only explain one-third of the increase in the number of new buyer mortgages last year.
Mr O'Leary said: "With Irish mortgage lending growing by around 30pc in 2017, in line with our forecasts, we believe that lending is now on track to reach a decade-high this year. Our medium-term forecast sees a mortgage market of €13.5bn in Ireland, which is unaltered by these numbers."
The banking body also released figures on the numbers approved for a mortgage. A total of 2,745 mortgages were approved in the month of December last year.
Some 1,397 were for first- time buyers, while mover purchasers accounted for 785.
In total, more than 43,000 mortgages were approved in 2017, valued at almost €9.3bn.
Brokers Ireland said the latest figures show the mortgage market is returning to normal.
Rachel McGovern, of the mortgage broker body, said in a normal market the yearly volume should be around €10bn.
She said that lack of supply of suitable properties is still a major issue. If the Central Bank rules were less severe on second-hand buyers it would free up more properties for sale, she added.