Official figures show that consumer prices rose sharply last month, mainly due to higher clothes and footwear prices and increases in health insurance premiums.

The Central Statistics Office said the annual rate of inflation in February was 2.2%, up from 1.7% in January and the highest since November 2008.

Prices rose 0.9% compared with January, the biggest monthly rise for three years. The CSO said there was a pick-up in clothes and footwear prices after the end of winter sales, while health insurance premiums also increased.

The EU's harmonised measure of prices - which excludes mortgage interest repayments - rose 0.9% in the month, giving an annual increase also of 0.9%.

A breakdown showed the clothing and footwear prices jumped 6.5% compared with January, while prices of furniture and household equipment rose 1.8%. Health insurance prices jumped by 14.4%. But prices in the separate health category were 0.6% lower, due to a 4% drop in prices for prescription drugs.

Food prices were up 0.7% in the month. Rents rose by 1%, but mortgage payments fell 0.1%. Transport costs climbed by 0.7%, with petrol prices up 1.1% and air fares jumping 21%.

Restaurant prices dropped 0.5% during February, but accommodation costs were up 1.5%.