The construction industry expanded last month at the fastest pace since January 2006, according to the latest Ulster Bank Construction Purchasing Managers' Index.

New orders, job creation and industry sentiment all improved during March, according to the data, with the index’s topline reading rising four points to 60.2.

Any reading over 50 indicates expansion.

Where activity increased, panellists mainly linked this to growth of new orders, while both residential and commercial building activity rose.

"Housing activity continued to rise sharply in March with last month representing the ninth month in a row of expansion linked to residential projects," said Ulster Bank chief economist Simon Barry.

"Commercial activity also continues to expand briskly, while the pace of decline in civil engineering eased for the second month running."

Employment in the construction industry rose for the seventh month in a row.