Residential property prices nationwide fell by 18% in the year to February, the biggest fall since December 2009.

And house prices in Dublin have fallen 57% since the peak in 2007 according to new figures from the Central Statistics Office.

Apartments have been hit harder by the property crash with a drop of 62% in five years.

This means that an apartment in Kilmainham in Dublin which was on the market for €500,000 in 2007 is now worth just €190,000.

The new figures are another blow to consumer confidence and economists and estate agents believe the market is now in freefall because of the lack of bank lending.

Alan McQuaid, chief economist at Bloxham said he believes house prices had even further to fall.

“Even allowing for the Budget 2012 initiatives to boost the property market, as well as lower interest rates from the European Central Bank, the short-term risks to house prices remain to the downside in our view.

“We don’t see any significant improvement in the housing market until the employment situation gets better and bank lending returns to some sort of ‘normality’, which is still some way off in our view,” he said.

However he said it wasn’t all bad news – according to the Eighth Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey Ireland is now the second most affordable market after the United States, making it attractive for cash investors.

It now costs little more than three times the average salary to buy a house here as against ten times at the height of the boom.

The CSO said that residential prices fell by 2.2% in February, which compares with drops of 1.9% in January and 1.7% the same time last year. Prices are now 49% lower than their highest level in 2007, the figures show.

The CSO figures show that residential properties in Dublin fell by 1.2% last month and are 20.3% lower than a year ago. Dublin house prices decreased by 0.7% in the month and are 20.2% lower from a year ago, while Dublin apartment prices are 22.9% lower compared with the same time in 2011.

The price of homes in the rest of Ireland fell by 3% in February compared to a fall of 1.5% the same time last year. Prices were 16.4% lower than in February 2011.

Dublin residential property prices are 57% lower than their highest level in February 2007, while the fall in the price of homes in the rest of the country is somewhat lower at 45%.