DUBLIN - Ireland may return to economic growth in 2010, a year earlier than previously expected, Prime Minister Brian Cowen told an election rally on Thursday.

Cowen had said last month that Ireland's battered economy would not return to growth until 2011 but signalled a revision, citing predictions from The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and other research bodies.

The ESRI and other commentators are now predicting that the decisions taken by the Government means that we are positioned to return to growth, even rapid growth, as the world economy turns, as early as next year, Cowen said.

However the ESRI said earlier this month that the Irish economy could return to strong growth in 2011 if the country's competitiveness is restored.