Retail sales last month were almost 9% higher than in March 2013, according to new figures from the Central Statistics Office.

The rise was driven mainly by motor sales, with sales growth narrowing to 2.2% when their impact is excluded.

Year-on-year, motor trades were 29.2% higher, while furniture and lighting sales rose by 10.5%.

Books, newspaper and stationery sales were 4.6% higher, while clothing, textiles and footwear sales rose by 3.8%.

Food, beverage and tobacco sales fell 7.2% compared to March 2012, while department store sales fell 1.5% in the same period.

Industry group Retail Ireland described the figures as "very disappointing" as they showed “no change in sales in shops around the country".

"The double digit growth in furniture sales is indicative of a stronger property market, and long may that continue," according to director Stephen Lynam.

"However, these increases were offset by falls in sales in supermarkets, specialised food shops like butcher, and department stores.

"While any growth is welcome, an increase in the value of sales, excluding motor sales, of just 0.5% is simply not enough to create jobs and prevent store closures.”