Irish Life and Permanent is experiencing strong growth across its key businesses, with new mortgage lending in Ireland running ahead of the record levels racked up last year, shareholders heard this morning at the company's AGM.

ILP, the third-biggest bank in Ireland, said its life and pensions operation was robust following a recovery in demand in the second half of 2003.

ILP, which holds around one quarter of the Irish mortgage market, described growth in new lending as 'exceptional', and said the mortgage market continues to perform very strongly.

The lender predicted a soft landing for Irish house prices which have risen more than 300% nationally in the last nine years.

It also announced the appointment of Gillian Bowler as chariman at the firm. Bowler is already non-executive director at ILP, she is also chairman of Failte Ireland, a part owner of recently floated CNG hotels, and founder of Budget Travel in the 1970s.

Irish Life and Permanent shares closed down 5 cent to €12.35 this evening.