Consumers remained cautious in December as they continued to see limited upside in their personal finances from the country's long-running recovery a monthly survey showed today. 

The KBC Bank Ireland/ESRI Consumer Sentiment Index inched lower to 103.2 in December - the average rate reported in 2017 - from 103.6 in November. 

The survey had hit an 18-month high of 105.8 in September, but has failed to recover to the 15-year high of 108.6 posted in January 2016, before the UK Britain voted to leave the EU. 

Ireland is expected to have been the European Union's best performing economy for the fourth consecutive year in 2017, but morale has been patchy over the past 18 months as the recovery filters into people's pockets and some living costs rise. 

"While there is relief at widespread evidence of a strengthening Irish economy, it seems that many consumers still feel quite removed from the pick-up in personal finances that such buoyant economic conditions would traditionally deliver," KBC Bank Ireland's chief economist Austin Hughes said. 

Current spending of the typical consumer here is still about 5% below the level they experienced at the peak of the previous Celtic Tiger era in early 2008, he said. 

26% of consumers said they saw their own financial circumstances improving in the next 12 months compared to 27% who felt their circumstances improved in the past 12 months, the survey also found.

Austin Hughes said he expects to see some improvement in the January consumer sentiment index in line with an established seasonal trend. 

"The combination of bargain-hunting in post- Christmas sales and new year optimism, underpinned by a healthy Irish economy should ensure a solid start to sentiment in 2018," he said. 

"However, as the December survey reading suggests, the average Irish consumer is being buffeted by a range of forces that mean they are not seeing a progressive and palpable improvement in their fortunes," he added.