New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 12.1% in the fourth quarter of 2013 from 12.7% in the third quarter.

The unemployment rate, which hit a high of 15.1% in early 2012, fell for the seventh quarter in a row to close in on the euro zone average of 12% after the number of people employed increased by an annual 3.3%.

The Quarterly National Household survey shows that unemployment decreased by 14.1% - or 41,400 - in the year to the fourth quarter. This brought the total number of people without a job to 253,200.

The figures also reveal a yearly increase of 61,000 (3.3%) in the numbers of people in employment in the fourth quarter of last year.

This brings total employment to 1,909,800 - the highest level since the first quarter of 2009.

The number of people in the labour force increased by 19,000 to 2.2 million during the fourth quarter.

Goodbody economist Dermot O'Leary noted that the growth in employment continues to be led by full-time workers, which would indicate that the recovery is a sustainable one.

The QNHS - the official measure of employment and unemployment - shows that of the 61,000 increase in employed, 33,000 were self employed, while 28,000 were private sector employees.  

Public sector employment fell by 5,500 over the year.

Ten of the 14 sectors of the economy showed gains in employment, with hotels and restaurants and professional, scientific and technical activities posting the strongest gains.

Commenting on the latest CSO figures, Merrion economist Alan McQuaid described them as "hugely encouraging overall". He said they suggest that the economy is performing better than the official GDP figures would suggest. 

"While emigration has played a role in keeping the jobless rate down, it is now clear that there is more to the fall in unemployment over the past year or so than just that. Employment opportunities are on the rise, which can only augur well for the economy as a whole in the months ahead," the economist added.