Jobless total falls below 300,000 for the first time in three years
* Overall employment expected to grow in 2013
THE number of people out of work has fallen below 300,000 for the first time in three years.
Some 292,000 were on the live register in the first quarter of the year, a drop of almost 30,000 compared with the same period in 2012.
And figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that that 20,500 jobs were created in the first quarter of this year, most in the private sector.
While there is some concern that many of the positions are part-time, experts said the figures suggest that this year could be the first since 2008 that overall employment numbers grow.
"Employment is up for a third consecutive quarter and annual growth is now up 1.1pc, the fastest pace in five years," chief economist with Davy Research, Conall MacCoille, said.
"Although agriculture and part-time work account for much of the growth, expanding services sector jobs, particularly in hard-hit hotels, restaurants and retail, suggest that the domestic economy and labour market are stabilising.
"The data reinforces our view that 2013 will be the first calender year that employment will expand since 2008."
The data, contained in CSO's Quarterly National Household Survey, shows:
* Some 1,845,600 are now employed, an increase of 20,500 (1.1pc) since last year.
* However, full-time employment fell by 4,700 (0.3pc), which was offset by an increase of 24,200 part-time jobs.
* The unemployment rate has fallen to 13.7pc, down from 14.1pc at the start of the year. This compares with an EU 27 average of 10.6pc.
* There has also been a drop in the number of long-term unemployed, who are without a job for at least a year. The numbers fell from 63.5pc of all unemployed to 61.8pc.
* The biggest drop in sectoral unemployment is in construction (down 7,000 or almost 7pc), administration (down 4.8pc) and public administration and defence (down 4.3pc).
Jobs and Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton said the figures showed that the Government's jobs plan was working.
"We inherited an economy which was losing 90,000 jobs a year, but we are now seeing that the plan which we put in place is having an impact, with 25,000 jobs created since we launched," he said.
"That's more than 2,000 additional jobs per month in the private sector.
"While we have a long way to go and many people are yet to see the impacts, the plan is working. The Irish people and the Irish economy are fighting back and showing good signs of recovery."
The figures come following a series of job announcements last year from a number of major employers including PayPal, which announced 1,000 jobs last February, of which 200 were recruited filled last year, and Yahoo! which is recruiting an additional 200 workers.
But Finance Minister Michael Noonan warned that although confidence was "building up", more construction jobs had to be created.
"Between 2008 and 2010, 250,000 people were working in the construction sector. The figure is now 100,000. We have to find a way to get these people back to work," he said.