Ireland's beleaguered retail sector is braced for a bumper Christmas, it has been claimed.
A rise in employment, higher disposable incomes and the return of the feel-good-factor has prompted predictions from a leading business body of the best Christmas in five years.
Thomas Burke director of Ibec group, Retail Ireland, said: "The Irish retail sector has had some very tough years, but there is now cause for cautious optimism."
In its 2014 Retail Christmas Monitor, the group said it expected that about 3,960 million euro would be spent in shops this month - a rise of 2% on the sum for the same period last year.
It was also found households across Ireland were likely to spend an extra 750 euro in December than during previous months of the year.
Mr Burke added: "The next few weeks are by far the most important trading period of the year, and key indicators are pointing in the right direction.
"More people are at work, disposable income is rising and the Irish consumer is more positive about the future. This should translate into a really strong Christmas period for the sector. This is good news for the economy; it means more jobs and more tax revenue."
According to its most recent forecasts, Retail Ireland believes an additional 35,000 more people will be in work this Christmas compared to last year. The figure is almost 96,000 more than in December 2012.
Levels of disposable income are also showing signs of improvement, according to Retail Ireland, and are expected to grow by 3% in 2014 on top of the 3.3% during 2013.
Consumer sentiment - said to be at its highest point since the boom of 2007 - has been given a further boost with competition and the battle for footfall keeping prices at their lowest level since December 2002, the report found.
However, Mr Burke said more should be done to improve town and city centres to help traders.
He said: "Retailers continue pay high commercial rates to local authorities, while the quality services is diminishing, a fairer system is needed.
"Also much more needs to be done to make town and city centres better places to visit and shop, including a greater Garda presence."
Ibec represents the interests of business in Ireland and provides a wide range of direct services to 7,500 member companies.