Taoiseach Brian Cowen has said that 2009 was the most difficult year of his political life but he said times were even tougher for the many people who have lost their jobs during the year.

However, he said the country is in better shape than it was 12 months ago.

He said the Government's priorities for next year would be stabilising the banking system and providing investment to create new jobs.

He added that the best guarantee of maintaining salaries in the public service would be to find ways of working more efficiently.

Mr Cowen also said that he does not see why the devolution of police and justice in Northern Ireland cannot take place soon if there is a positive approach shown by politicians.