The country's construction sector saw a return to activity growth in December on the back of reduced Brexit anxiety.

The Ulster Bank Construction Purchasing Managers' Index posted a reading of above the 50 no-change mark for the first time in four months during December. 

The PMI, which covers the housing, commercial and civil engineering sectors, came in at 52 in December, up from 48.2 in November.

Ulster Bank noted that housing activity rebounded in December, rising modestly following a first decline in over six years in November. 

The sharpest expansion in activity was recorded on commercial projects, however, as the rate of growth accelerated from the previous month. 

Civil engineering activity continued to fall, but at a much softer pace and one that was the weakest since last May, Ulster Bank added.

Meanwhile, Irish construction firms gained confidence at the end of the year, with optimism rising to a six-month high in December. 

Some builders forecast that activity will rise over the course of 2020 and said they expect new projects to commence in the coming months, while others indicated that reduced uncertainty around Brexit should help to support growth.

This increased confidence, along with rising activity in December, encouraged firms to expand their staffing levels further. 

Ulster Bank noted that the rate of job creation was solid, having accelerated from that seen in November. Employment has now risen in each of the past 76 months, it added. 

Simon Barry, chief economist Republic of Ireland at Ulster Bank, said that after disappointing readings over the previous three months, the pick-up in the December PMI is an encouraging sign that construction growth regained some growth momentum as 2019 drew to a close. 

He also said that other details within the survey offered encouragement.  

"A notable pick-up in new orders left the December reading back in positive growth territory, while respondents also indicated faster growth in demand for construction workers, with the pace of job creation rising to a six-month high in December," Mr Barry said. 

"Moreover, the future activity index rose to a six-month high in December, as confidence about the sector's future prospects is being underpinned by expectations for availability of new projects in early 2020, while reduced uncertainty around Brexit was also cited as a source of support for the outlook," he added.