Nearly 20,000 jobs were created within the Irish economy in the first three months of 2017 as employment growth in Ireland continues to accelerate.

The latest Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) is considered the most accurate indicator of the state of the labour market and today shows there was an annual increase in employment of 3.5% or 68,600 in the first quarter of 2017. This brings total employment to 2.04 million, which is still below the State’s peak employment level, recorded as 2.16 million in the first quarter of 2008. Quarterly, employment grew by 19,300 in the first quarter of 2017, which was the fastest rate of growth recorded in nearly four years. This follows increases of 16,800 and 14,600 in the previous two quarters.

Employment increased in 11 of the 14 sectors reviewed as part of the survey. The largest rates of annual increase were recorded in the information and communication sector, which saw employment rise by 7,500 or 8.8% and the construction sector, where employment rose by 8.5% or 11,100. However, there were falls in employment in three sectors with the biggest decline coming in agriculture, forestry and fishing (-1,600), which one analyst linked to Brexit.

The QNHS showed there were 146,200 people classified as unemployed in the State in the first quarter of 2017, following an annual decrease 33,200 or 18.5%.Analysts are predicting unemployment will fall to below 6% before the end of the year.

As a result, the Republic’s headline rate of unemployment for April was put at 6.4 per cent, which represents a slight upward revision on the monthly series. Having had one of the highest rates of unemployment in Europe only a few years ago, the Republic’s Ireland’s unemployed rate now stands significantly below the euro area average of 9.5%, impressive considering the country had one of the highest rates of unemployment in Europe a few years ago.

Improving conditions in the labour market has turned the tide on emigration, which had been a feature of the early part of the financial crisis, with the most recent population figures indicating the State was now experiencing net inward migration.Employers’ group Ibec welcomed what it described as “exceptionally strong jobs numbers”, suggesting they were a sign of the strength and substance behind the State’s business model, while noting that the economy was weathering Brexit uncertainty “very well”.