A ceremony has taken place at Dublin Castle marking the start of Ireland's presidency of the EU, which formally begins tomorrow.

The ceremony was attended by the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Cabinet members, MEPs, other politicians, diplomats and the Lord Mayor of Dublin.

Several hundred tourists and members of the public also watched on.

The ceremony also marked 40 years of Irish membership of the EU and the start of Europe's Year of Citizens.

The ceremony included Enda Kenny inspecting a Defence Forces guard of honour.

This was followed by a flag raising ceremony and the playing of Ode to Joy.

Speaking to the assembled guests, Mr Kenny said the Irish presidency would be about stability, jobs and growth.

Mr Kenny said there are real actions to back up each of those words and Ireland would be in the business of solutions, a country driving recovery in Europe.

He called for the presidency to bring new hope, possibility and confidence to our peoples.

Eamon Gilmore said what happens over the next six months would be key to shaping the recovery in Europe.

He said the Government would work hard to restore financial stability right across the continent so as to build the conditions for job-creating growth.

The Government will work to reach agreement on outstanding elements of a banking union and focus on trade, he added.

Asked about German Chancellor Angela Merkel's comments that the eurozone crisis is not over, Mr Gilmore said implementing the decisions on a banking union in the early part of the year is very important and is going to be a priority.

He also singled out what he called the scourge of youth unemployment as a priority, saying the Irish presidency would do everything within its power to tackle it, starting with a Youth Unemployment Package.

Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton said it would be a no-nonsense, no-frills presidency focused on economic renewal for Ireland and Europe and would deliver tangible results.

She said the €60m that will be spent on the presidency is a really important investment.

Ms Creighton said the presidency would bring 30,000 visitors to Ireland during the six months and that the money spent also represents an investment in Ireland's reputation

At the end of the ceremony, children from the Blue Star Programme released 40 balloons into the air over Dublin Castle, to mark the 40 years of Irish membership of the EU.

At the same time, a peal of bells rang out from Christchurch Cathedral.