In a further sign of the slowing economy, new figures show that retail sales recorded their first annual fall for four years in February.

The Central Statistics Office said the volume of sales in the month was down 0.1% compared with February last year. Sales fell by 1.9% compared with January.

The motor sector had the biggest impact, with the volume of sales dropping 4.2% in the month. This sector includes repairs and forecourt sales.

Most other categories also showed falls, with electrical goods down 5.4%, food, drink and tobacco down 3% and footwear down 4.8%.

Bar sales were just 0.2% lower compared with January, but are down more than 5% over the year.

The value of sales, which takes prices into account, fell 1.3% in the month, giving an annual increase of 3.2%.