The latest Central Statistics Office figures show that the number of people on the Live Register stood at almost 353,000 at the end of February.

This is an increase of 26,700 on January's figure of 326,100.

The Live Register figure at the end of last month shows an 87.1% increase in a year, which is the fastest rise in unemployment ever recorded.

Men account for 71% of the increase over the past year with an average of almost 10,000 men being added to the dole every month since this time last year.

In recent months, the gap between men and women has narrowed and the pace of increase in the number of women on the dole now matches that of men.

The figures bring the official unemployment rate for Ireland to 10.4% of the workforce.

This is more than double the rate for February last year and the highest unemployment rate since October 1997.

The Live Register includes part-time workers, seasonal and casual
workers entitled to jobseekers benefit or allowance.

Read the full CSO report

Speaking in the Dáil, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said that if the present rate of job loss continues, the figure could reach 450,000 by the end of the year.

The Fine Gael leader described the figures as truly shocking.

Enda Kenny accused the Taoiseach of getting it wrong by going solo and not seeking the input of the Opposition.

He called on the Taoiseach to apologise for the mismanagement of the Irish economy.