Growth in the services sector declined slightly in March as Brexit weighed on exports and pushed confidence among firms to its lowest level in over six-and-a-half years, a survey showed.

Ireland brushed aside Britain's 2016 vote to leave the European Union, posting the fastest economic growth in Europe for five years in a row.

The economy continues to expand strongly but at a slower pace.

Today's AIB services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) shows a reading of 55.3% for March, down from 55.9% in February.

The services sector covers areas as diverse as communication, financial and business services, IT and the tourism trade.

Expansion in new export business dropped at a sharper rate to 50.8%, which was the weakest rate since November 2016, the only time the sub-index has dipped below the 50 mark that separates growth from contraction since 2011.

The data suggests that the economy is continuing to expand at an impressive pace but "the readings for the opening three months of the year are all below the levels seen in 2018", AIB's chief economist Oliver Mangan said.

"This indicates that growth in the economy has slowed somewhat from the very robust rate seen in recent years," he added.