Retail sales saw their worst performance in seven months in March, with volumes falling 2.1% compared with February, dragged down by weak car sales. 

New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that, excluding the volatile motor trade, sales volumes fell 0.1% in the month.

Sales volumes were 5.2% higher on an annual basis, which was the slowest growth since June 2015.

The CSO said that sales in department stores fell by 4%, while motor trades were down 2.7% and sales of electrical goods eased by 2.1% in March.

Today's figures also show that sales in the "other retail sales category" rose by 3.5% on a monthly basis, while food, beverages and tobacco sales grew by 2.1% and sales of hardware, paints and glass were up 1.9%.

Commenting on today's weaker-than-expected figures, Merrion economist Alan McQuaid said that although retail sales remain erratic on a monthly basis, the underlying trend is positive. 

Mr McQuaid said that while most attention was on cars last year and will be again in 2016, personal spending in other areas has picked up in recent months and is becoming more broad-based. 

"This can only be good news for retailers and employment prospects in the sector," he added.

The economist said that ultra low deposit interest rates and increased disposable income should lead to higher personal spending this year, as should the improving labour market. 

"However, political uncertainty both at home and in the UK may continue to weigh on spending patterns in the second quarter," he cautioned.