There was an increase in employment of 1,200 in the year to the fourth quarter, according to new figures from the Central Statistics Office.

This is the first annual increase in employment recorded since the second quarter of 2008.

The Quarterly National Household Survey for the fourth quarter reveals a decrease in unemployment of 19,200.

Most of this is accounted for by a fall of 18,000 people who have left the labour force.

The CSO said the annual growth in employment was 0.1% in the fourth quarter of last year.

This compared with a fall in employment of 0.2% in the third quarter, and an annualised decrease of 0.5% in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Although today's figures show employment growth, the CSO cautions that it is a very small positive figure.

The average number of persons unemployed in 2012 was 316,000 - down 700 from the 2011 average figure. The number of unemployed in the fourth quarter was 294,000, a fall of 6.1%.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell over the fourth quarter from 14.6% to 14.2% now.

Today's survey also shows that the long term unemployment rate fell from 9.1% to 8.2% over the year to the fourth quarter.

Long term unemployment accounted for 59.9% of total unemployment compared with 62.5% a year earlier and 55.3% in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Alan McQuaid, economist with Merrion Stockbrokers said anecdotal evidence suggested emigration was playing a big part in keeping down the numbers unemployed.

"That said, there have been positive job announcements in recent weeks which provide some grounds for optimism, and these latest figures are a sign that things are headed in the right direction, albeit slowly," he said.

The CSO said that employment fell in eight of the 14 economic sectors it covers.

The biggest rate of decline was seen in the public administration and defence sector (down 6.2%), construction (down 4.3%) and transportation and storage (down 4%).

The biggest rates of increase were recorded in agriculture, forestry and fishing, which rose 12.1% and the information and communication sector, up 7%.

Full time employment fell by 12,800 (0.9%) over the year, but the CSO said this was offset by an increase in part-time employment of 14,000 (up 3.2%).

Employers group IBEC said today's CSO figures which showed the first annual increase in employment since 2008 is further evidence that the recovery is firmly underway.

''Throughout 2012 we saw increasing signs of stabilisation in the labour market and in the final quarter employment posted the first annual increase since 2008'', commented IBEC's senior economist Reetta Suonpera.

''Perhaps most encouragingly, the figures show that the private sector added 7,000 jobs during 2012. Seasonally adjusted employment increased by 6,500 relative to the previous quarter, which also marks the first time since 2008 we have seen two consecutive quarters of employment growth,'' the economist added.

Live Register figure down 1,400 in February

The Live Register recorded a monthly decrease of 1,400 in February on a seasonally adjusted basis, new figures from the CSO show today.

This brings the seasonally adjusted total to 428,800.

The CSO said that in unadjusted terms, there were 428,876 people signing on the Live Register this month. This represents a yearly decrease of 10,546, or 2.4%.

The standardised unemployment rate in February stood at 14.1%, unchanged from the revised January rate.