Ireland has taken over the presidency of the European Union for the next six months. The island republic has said it plans to use the next six months to focus on securing economic stability.
Although Ireland officially took the presidency at the stroke of midnight, which brought in the new year, Prime Minister Enda Kenny attended a ceremony at Dublin Castle on Monday to mark the handover from Cyprus.
Speaking at the event, which was also attended by members of his cabinet, Prime Minister Kenny said Ireland's long-standing membership in the European Union and its predecessor organizations had brought great benefits. At the same time though, he alluded to the tough austerity measures his government has implemented, after a banking crisis forced Ireland to accept a 67-billion euro ($88.4 billion) international bailout in 2010.
"Today, Europe is working hard to move beyond the recent economic crisis which has affected so many citizens' and families' lives, " Kenny said. "We know all too well here in Ireland the huge sacrifices the crisis has meant. The people of Europe and Ireland need to know there is progress. That there is a next step to recovery. "
The minister for foreign affairs and trade, Eamon Gilmore, expressed confidence that 2013 would be about "recovery, both for Ireland and for Europe. As we become the first country in the euro zone to exit an EU-IMF programme, Ireland can - and will - be a success story for Europe again."
This is the seventh time Ireland has held the EU's six-month rotating presidency, which plays a key role in decision making in the 27-member bloc. Under the "trio" system introduced in 2007, Ireland will work closely with Lithuania and Greece, which are next in line to hold the presidency. The trio system allows three countries that hold successive terms in the presidency to work together on a common agenda.