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Taoiseach Enda Kenny has told the Association of European Journalists that “stability, jobs and growth” would be the key themes of Ireland’s EU Presidency which begins on January 1.

Addressing the AEJ Christmas lunch on December 17, he said there would also be a special Cabinet meeting exclusively devoted to job creation “early in the New Year”. He said the State would assume the European Union presidency at what is probably one of the most challenging times of the last few decades. Noting that there were 26 million unemployed in the EU, he said a people-centred union is central to “what we have to do here”.

He said that on a recent visit to Vienna he had met Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, who took him to a youth centre and showed him how the guarantee of youth employment or further education or training works in that country. “The level of unemployment among young people is practically negligible in Austria,” said the Taoiseach. “We have some of that here in Ireland but clearly not enough, with an unemployment rate among young people of 29 per cent, 58 per cent in Greece, 50 per cent in Spain . . . So we’re going to make the Commission’s youth employment programme a central feature of our presidency.”

Referring to controversies concerning the Budget, he said: “This has not been an easy budget . . . but then that’s the job you have in government. It would be very easy to prepare a budget in 10 or 15 minutes provided . . . you had a mountain of somebody else’s money to spend and no need for accountability in the way that is required now.”

There was a record attendance – in excess of 70 – for the Taoiseach’s address in the Stephen’s Green Hibernian Club.