The biggest part of the burden Ireland has borne throughout its bailout programme has been shouldered by the wealthy.

This is according to the European Commission's mission chief to Ireland, Istvan Szekely.

Mr Szekely said significant improvements had been made in bringing down prices and labour costs to make exports more competitive.

He praised the efforts of exporters in readjusting their cost bases but, he said, "The job is very far from being done".

"Other parts of the economy still have to adjust, including the public sector, to ensure that costs are further brought down and if this happens I have no doubt that Ireland will be back to the kind of growth rates it experienced before and will be contributing to Europe's recovery",' he said.

As part of the Troika delegation which makes regular visits to Ireland to monitor progress in implementing the agreed programme he said the EU, IMF and ECB are not imposing reforms on Ireland.

Although the bailout funds are conditional on certain measures being taken he said it was important to point out that "these measures - the conditionality - are formulated together with the authorities...there is no democratic deficit here".

Figures presented by the EU official to the IBEC HR and Leadership Conference in Dublin today showed that Ireland is now as competitive as it was in the year 2000. This was at a time when the economy was one of the best performing in the world.

Mr Szekely said, however, that certain goods and services were still "just way too expensive" in Ireland and said Government intervention may be necessary to make them cheaper.

He singled out the cost of professional services such as legal advice as one example of an area in which reform was needed.

The Commission director said he was conscious of the impact the programme was having on the Irish people. "I think we should all bear in mind the social consequences of a programme and I'm personally deeply committed to this coming from a family that was actually not very well off," he said.

The high level of unemployment and the extent to which those who have lost jobs are remaining unemployed for long periods of time is a key concern for the Troika.

Mr Szekely said the Government would have to formulate policies that would address the problem of enabling those who have lost jobs in sectors badly hit by the recession to take up positions in industries that were growing and hiring new employees.

"I think we need to focus on measures that can help people to be more attractive for employers and to be able to take up jobs in areas whre companies can expand and there are vacancies. So this calls for policy action and activation policies - retraining people to help them to develop new skills," he said.