Annual growth in employment slowed to 2.6% in the first quarter of the year, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The quarterly increase in the numbers at work of 6,200 compares to almost 20,000 in the same period last year.

Foreign nationals now account for 16% of all people in employment.

Income tax figures and today's employment data point to a possible small increase in employment for 2008, say economists.

The development comes as the European Central Bank has continued to leave interest rates on hold at 4%.

Earlier, Fine Gael accused Fianna Fáil of sabotaging the economy's capacity to withstand tougher economic times.

On RTÉ Radio's Morning Ireland, Fine Gael finance spokesperson Richard Bruton said the Government needs to reform its wasteful spending.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has said the Government does not envisage the imposition of a mini budget this year.

Speaking in Tullamore, Mr Cowen said the country was facing tighter times but these would be addressed by prudent management.

Mr Cowen criticised what he said was the sound byte mentality of the Opposition, which he said had called for an increase in Government spending in many areas up to this morning and have now called for a cut in government spending.

The Taoiseach he does envisage that the government's budget deficit will be any where near the maximum of 3% set out by the EU stability growth pact.

Yesterday, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said he will be reviewing the Government's budget over the coming month after new figures showed tax receipts fell €1.2bn behind target in May.

There are now indications that the construction slowdown is spreading to the rest of the economy.