The Government's deficit for 2012 came in at 7.6% of GDP, beating the Troika target of 8.6%.

Figures produced by the Department of Finance for the Maastricht Returns indicate a considerable improvement on the Budget 2013 deficit forecast of 8.2%.

The Troika target for this year is a deficit of 7.5%, but the Department of Finance now estimates that the deficit will be 7.4%.

The Troika has set a deficit target of 3% of GDP by 2015, in accordance with the Maastricht guidelines.

Meanwhile, the austerity pain being pursued by a number of European countries led to very little gain in 2012, official figures showed today.

Figures from Eurostat show that a number of the countries at the forefront of Europe's financial crisis saw their borrowings rise.

This is despite the fact that they have pursued the strict austerity medicine prescribed by international creditors to keep their debt levels down.

Though the cumulative level of government deficits fell during the year, largely thanks to Germany swinging into a budget surplus, others continue to reel from the costs associated with recession.

Euro zone debt burden rises on weak growth

Spending cuts and tax increases have helped to reduce deficits across the euro zone but the region's debt burden rose because economic growth has flat-lined and fewer companies and households are paying their taxes.

Of the four countries that had accepted outside financial assistance by the end of 2012, Portugal and Spain saw their deficits swell in value terms and as a proportion of the size of their economies.

Portugal's deficit increased to 6.4% of the country's annual gross domestic product in 2012 from 4.4% the year before, while Spain's jumped to 10.6% from 9.4%.

Greece managed to make further inroads in cutting its borrowings but the deficit rose to 10% of the country's annual GDP from 9.5% as the country remains mired in a deep recession.

Only Ireland saw its deficit fall under both criteria. Its deficit stood at 7.6% of GDP compared to 13.4% the year before.

Overall in the euro zone, the deficit dropped in 2012 to around €353 billion from €391 billion the year before, with Germany posting a dramatic improvement.

Europe's biggest economy posted a €4.1 billion budget surplus in 2012, compared to a €20.2 billion deficit the year before. As a result, the budget deficit of the whole euro zone fell to 3.7% of the region's annual GDP.

In 2012, euro zone debt was worth 90.6% of the region's annual GDP, up from 87.3%.

Overall borrowing in the euro zone stands well in comparison with the US, which has a budget deficit worth around 7% of annual GDP.

The Department of Finance said that the 2012 estimate of general government debt is 117.6% of GDP which it said is very close to the end year forecast at budget time.

Maastricht returns are submitted by each member state to Eurostat twice a year, at the end of March and the end of September. In Ireland, the tables are compiled by the Central Statistics Office with the forecast for current year provided by the Department of Finance.

''Following a rigorous three week clarification process, the agreed returns are published by Eurostat,'' a statement from the Department of Finance said.