But the twin challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit meant when the 17,368 jobs that were lost in Enterprise Ireland client businesses were taken into account, there was a net drop in employment of 872.

In total, there were 220,613 people working in Enterprise Ireland supported firms at the end of 2020.

“2020 was a very challenging year for Irish enterprise due to the dual threats of Covid-19 and Brexit,” said Julie Sinnamon, Enterprise Ireland CEO.

“Our client companies, which employ over 220,000 people, showed resilience and sustained their businesses and jobs throughout the pandemic.”

The difficulties experienced in the economy were not felt in every sector helped by EI, with life sciences, cleantech and construction among those where strong growth was recorded.

However, Covid-19 restrictions hit others hard, including the food sector where employment contracted by 1.5% while those involved in exporting also had a tough time.

In order to help companies survive through the pandemic, EI provided €142m in support to 1,919 businesses through a range of initiatives.

€124m was given under the Sustaining Enterprise Fund to assist 418 firms that employ 17,710 deal with the Covid challenge.

EI also worked with client companies to get them Brexit ready, with 1,000 customs roles supported to help companies deal with new customs rules.

“The trade agreement reached on Christmas Eve provides certainty for exporters,” Ms Sinnamon said.

“Our plan now is to help exporters to the UK in three main areas; helping businesses who haven’t yet put in place people and processes to handle new customs procedures for exporting to the UK to do so; ensuring exporters remain competitive in the UK by engaging with their supply chain and customers; and helping them identify new opportunities for growth both in the UK market, and also in Europe and beyond.”

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar said EI had played a critical role in delivering on the Government’s priorities of sustaining as many jobs as possible and  helping businesses adapt to a radically different trading environment.

“Workers in most areas have paid a price to protect public health and limit the spread of the virus over the past year,” he said.

“The good news is that we now have vaccines, which will, over the course of the year allow us to reduce restrictions and get those sectors back on their feet.

“We will also continue to invest in research and innovation to ensure our economy is prepared for the jobs of the future and to capitalise on new technology and opportunities as they arise.”

Enterprise Ireland has also outlined its strategic priorities for this year, including increasing employment at client firms to 222,000, supporting a recovery in exports, including market diversification to the euro zone and increasing the level of research and development by Irish companies to €1.25 billion.