Economy growing at faster rate than expected

Minister Michael Noonan

Ireland's economy is growing at a faster rate than previously believed.

Latest official figures show the value of all goods and services in the country - known as gross domestic product (GDP) - increased by 5.2% last year.

It was originally estimated to grow 4.8%.

Some experts say a truer indication of the economy's health is gross national product (GNP) - which excludes global firms who take their profits out of the State.

That figure also grew last year by 6.9% - significantly higher than the 5.2% it was expected to rise.

However, in the first three months of this year, GDP rose 1.4% but GNP fell by 0.8%.

The report by the Central Statistics Office will be used to help draw up the Government's tax and spending plans in the upcoming Budget.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the "very positive" figures confirmed Ireland's economy as the fastest growing in Europe and its recovery as well established.

"The task now is to build upon the gains we have made in recent years," he said.

Mr Noonan said sacrifices made since the crash are now paying off.

"Robust growth is being recorded across most sectors of the economy, both domestic-facing and exporting," he said.

"Exports were strong in the opening quarter, growing by 14.3% year-on-year.

"The multinational sector is contributing but so too are Irish-owned firms. The competitiveness improvements we've seen in recent years are standing to us."

Business leaders also hailed the latest figures as proof of an "exceptionally strong" economy.

Fergal O'Brien of Ibec, which represents employers, said the numbers will surprise many observers but endorse its prediction that the economy will grow again by another 5% this year.

"The latest figures points to strong and well balanced economic growth," he said.

"It is particularly positive to see that consumer spending is now accelerating quite rapidly."