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Irish unemployment falls below 10 pct for first time since 2009

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DUBLIN, May 21 (Reuters) - Ireland's unemployment rate dropped below 10 percent for the first time in more than six years at the end of March.

The number of people out of work fell to 9.9 percent, the central statistics office said on Thursday.

Employment has been growing strongly since the jobless rate hit a high of 15.1 percent in early 2012, when Ireland was in an international bailout. It completed the bailout programme 18 months ago and has since become the fastest-growing economy in the European Union.

The number of people in work rose by 12,500, or 0.6 percent, in the first quarter from the previous three months. That compared with a gain of 13,000 in the fourth quarter of 2014.

The government has forecast that the unemployment rate will fall to 8.8 percent in 2016 when it is due to seek re-election. (Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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