Bank of Ireland statistics claim the lender has nearly 50% of the Irish SME lending market with €5.3bn in SME loans, according to the Bank’s results.

According to the Irish Times, the bank said that this was an 18% growth on 2014, and did not include any restructuring of old debt.

The lender said it received 66,000 credit applications from Irish businesses in 2015, up 8% on 2014, approving 88% of the 16,300 it received in Q4 last year.

The market share figure is based upon statistics from the Irish Central Bank.

Bank of Ireland said a strong performer was agricultural sector lending, up 7% to €665m, driven up by regulatory changes to caps on dairy products and a commercial push for Irish beef exports.

Bank of Ireland business banking managing director Mark Cunningham said: " The agricultural sector is an important growth sector for Bank of Ireland and overall credit approvals in 2015 were up 7% on 2014 figures, at €665m. While milk prices are expected to increase, the timeframe for this price recovery has extended beyond initial expectations to the second half of 2016. Beef supplies in the first half of 2016 are anticipated to remain tight with increased supplies coming onto the market in H2 2016 as a result of dairy herd growth, which started last year.

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"Businesses are beginning to expand and invest, and this is beginning to be reflected in increased demand for term loans. We expect this trend to continue as the overall outlook for 2016 is positive, with a number of indicators pointing to sustained improvement in the general economy, including higher consumer spending, continued employment gains and increased business investment," concluded Mark Cunningham.