The Minister for Finance Brian Cowen has dismissed suggestions that the economy is too dependent on the construction sector.

Responding to new figures showing that the sector now accounts for 25% of economic output, he said Ireland still had a deficit in infrastructure.

The report on construction and housing in Ireland says output in the sector has risen a massive 80% since 2000.

The report, compiled by the Central Statistics Office, says that in 2005 the estimated value of output in the construction industry was almost €32 billion. That is 80% higher than the output figure of €17.6 billion in 2000.

The CSO also says that Ireland has the highest construction output per head in Europe at about €7,600. This is more than double the figure for the UK.

Today's report reveals that about one in eight people employed here work in the construction industry. That is 12.6% of the workforce and compares to an EU average of less than 8%.

It also estimates that over 25,000 non-nationals were working in the industry in the fourth quarter of 2005, representing about 10% of the total number at work in the sector.

The CSO says that over 86,000 dwelling units (houses and apartments) were built here last year. This compares to less than 50,000 in 2000. It adds that new homes were completed at a rate of 21 units per 1,000 of population. It says this is the highest rate of residential building in the EU.

Residential building accounted for two thirds of total construction output in 2005.

The total value of mortgage debt increased from €33 billion in 2000 to almost €100 billion last year, according to today's CSO report. It says the average mortgage cost €102,000 in 2000 and €200,000 last year. It adds that in 2000, less than 5% of new mortgages were for over €200,000, but by 2005 48% of Irish mortgages exceeded this figure.

The average price of a new house was €166,000 in 2000 and just over €272,000 in 2005. The price of a new apartment rose from €206,000 in 2000 to over €293,000 last year.