The seasonally adjusted figure for the number of people on the Live Register has fallen below 400,000 for the first time since May 2009.

The number of people signing on fell by 2,500 in February on a seasonally adjusted basis.

The unadjusted number of benefit claimants has also fallen below 400,000.

At the end of February, there were 398,069 signing on compared to a seasonally adjusted figure of 398,300.

The latest Live Register figures imply that the standardised unemployment rate in February was 11.9%.

That is slightly below the latest available euro zone unemployment rate of 12% as of the end of January and is the lowest level since April 2009.

The February figures from the Central Statistics Office show just under 55% of all claimants were short-term claimants compared to 55.8% in the same month last year.

Live Register figures include some part-time workers, who are entitled to claim certain benefits, and do not measure unemployment directly.

The figures, however, do not include the 85,028 people who are availing of programmes helping the long-term unemployed return to the workforce.

Commenting on today's figures, Merrion economist Alan McQuaid said that the unemployment rate remains the key indicator as far as the economy is concerned and steady progress is being made in terms of bringing it down.

Mr McQuaid said that although the recovery path for the labour market will not be entirely smooth, he believes the level of unemployment will continue to fall over the course of 2014.

"It does now appear as though the jobless rate has peaked, and we are looking for it to fall back to 11.5% on average this year from 13.1% in 2013, which itself was the lowest level since 2009," he said.