New figures show that the number of people working in the public service fell by almost 2,000 in the first three months of this year.

The figures were part of the first quarterly report on the issue sent to the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

They show that 303,457 people were employed in the public service at the end of March, down from 305,402 at the end of 2010.

Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform Brendan Howlin said the Government was on track to achieve a target of 302,000 by the end of this year.

He said the public pay bill for the first quarter was in line with targets. The total pay bill for this year is expected to be €15.7bn.

A breakdown of the figures showed that the biggest fall in employee numbers - just over 2,300 - came in the health area.

This included the transfer of 957 welfare officers from the Health Service Executive to the Department of Social Protection. There was a drop of almost 300 in the number of local authority workers.