The country's services sector grew for the 20th month in a row in March and optimism among companies was at its second-highest level since March 2005, according to a new survey.
The Investec Purchasing Managers' Index of activity in the services sector, which covers businesses from banks to hotels and accounts for 70% of economic output, rose to 60.7 in March from 57.5 in February. 

A reading above 50 points to growth in activity in the sector.
In a positive sign for the export sector, the sub-index for new export business among services firms rose to 62.8 from 60.6. The US and UK were the key sources of export growth, while the Middle East was also mentioned by companies surveyed. 

Companies in the services sector increased their staffing levels last month to extend the current sequence of job creation to 19 months. They said that the main reason for taking on new staff was due to their expanding workloads.

Meanwhile, nearly 58% of companies in the Irish services sector expected activity to be higher in a year's time, with just 5% predicting a fall, the survey found.

All four segments of the industry - business services; financial services; technology media and telecoms; and travel and leisure - posted growth in March, the seventh time in past eight months that all areas have experienced growth at the same time.

Investec Ireland's chief economist Philip O'Sullivan said that a broad based improvement across all areas of the services sector was reported.

"We reaffirm our view that this optimism is well founded, given the improving backdrop at home and abroad. We continue to expect to see further strong Services PMI readings over the coming months and beyond," Mr O'Sullivan added.