A contraction of 30% in new house building, combined with no growth in the industry, have resulted in the first reduction in economic output since quarterly records began.

The figures from the Central Statistics Office appear to be the first official confirmation that the economy could be heading toward recession, with GDP already down by 1.5% compared with the first quarter of last year.

The numbers come as the price of oil on global markets surged to a new peak of $143 a barrel.

Meanwhile the world's top central banking body has said the world economy could be in for an unexpectedly severe downturn.

The Bank for International Settlements has blamed lax credit for fuelling the current financial crisis.

The bank, known as the central bankers' central bank, said it appears that a 'deeper and more protracted global downturn than the consensus view seems to expect' is on the way.