The Taoiseach has been given the Golden Victoria European of the Year Award from a German magazine publishers’ group, which he said he would accept "in the name of the Irish people".

At a ceremony in Berlin, Mr Kenny said that words did "not exist to describe their courage, their dignity, their generosity in how they have faced and are now facing down... difficulties".

He said that Ireland had made mistakes and that its property boom foundations were "built on sand".

However, in the speech at the Deutsche Telecom headquarters, he said that Ireland was on the road to recovery and that it was determined to exit the EU/IMF bailout next year on schedule.

Mr Kenny said Ireland's first priority was to relieve the bank debt burden which, he said, equalled 40% of Ireland's GDP, although in his speech he made no direct appeal to the German government on the issue.

He said the next priority was to lower unemployment.

Previous recipients of the award include the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso.

The German publishing association VDZ, which presented the award, said it was in recognition of Mr Kenny's "strong contribution to Europe and commitment to European ideals both as Prime Minister and throughout his many years in public life."

It also acknowledged what it described as "Ireland's determined response to the current economic and financial crisis... in view of the genuine hardship being experienced by many Irish people."