Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show net exports decreased during the period from 4,453 million euros last year to 4,060 million euros.
The volume of output of industry was up by 1 percent and capital spending fell by 12.4 percent.
A positive feature was a 1.8 percent rise in consumer spending but that was still sluggish compared to figures in recent years.
However, the overall result was that the economy slowed to a virtual halt, just managing gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 0.5 percent.
Unemployment continued to rise with almost 20,000 joining the dole queue during the months of June and July. Unusually, the July jobless figures prompted a statement from the Taoiseach.
The low GDP figure for the first quarter compares to a growth rate of 12.1 percent in the equivalent period in 2001 when the Celtic Tiger boom was at its peak.
Gross national product growth – it takes account of profits repatriated by the substantial number of multinational companies – was 0.8 percent for the first quarter compared to 11.1 percent in the equivalent period of 2001.
Richard Bruton, Fine Gael’s deputy leader and finance spokesman, said the economic figures confirmed the Government was presiding over a “severe slump”.
“The Government has got everything back to front,” he said. “It added fuel to the economy when it was overheating during the economic boom, and is now heaping extra burdens on struggling businesses in the current difficult environment.”
He added,”The evidence of economic mismanagement is there for all to see. Exports slumped in value by an alarming 16 percent in the first quarter of the year, while the real level of investment activity in the economy has slumped by 12.5 percent.”
“Overall economic growth as measured by GDP has slumped to one twentieth of its level in 2000,” Bruton said.
The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that while the latest unemployment figures were a matter of some concern, the country’s labor market performance is “quite strong”.
“It is important to note that Ireland’s unemployment rate is a full four percentage points below the latest Eurozone average of 8.8 percent,” he said.
Ahern said the Government’s policies are oriented firmly towards the protection of existing jobs and the promotion of new employment.
However, Labor’s employment spokesman Brendan Howlin said the July figures provided the “starkest warning yet” that the country was on the verge of a major jobs crisis.
He said almost 20,000 people joining the dole queue in two months were “virtually unprecedented in recent economic history”.
During July, 7,595 extra people signed on the state’s Live Register for benefits, an increase of up to 4.3 percent.
In the year to July there was an increase of 13,349 or 7.8 percent. The number signing on has now grown to 185,447.
When seasonal factors are taken into account the total increased by 2,300 in July to 178,500.