ARCHBISHOP Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has called for new measures to stem the flow of young people who are being lost to emigration.
He said Irish society was right to miss its emigrants this Christmas -- because they should never have had to leave in the first place.
He pointed to apprenticeships as one way in which to get young people into the workforce so that they learned new skills, and didn't have to move abroad in order to find work.
"Many more big firms should be looking at that and trying to see that there are apprenticeships that are available to young people," he told the Irish Independent.
"Most young people want to work," he said.
He warned that young people who find themselves out of work for a long period of time are "the most vulnerable and the most frustrated".
Referring to the Europe-wide context, the archbishop said high youth unemployment wasn't just a problem for Ireland.
"It is worse in a number of other European countries. In some places up to 50pc of young people can't get jobs."
The leader of the largest diocese in the Irish church said he felt particularly for those families who would have an "empty chair" at the kitchen table this year.
Acknowledging that young emigrants might be enjoying their Christmas in places such as Australia and Canada, the archbishop said: "But their parents will miss them and we should miss them -- because they shouldn't have had to emigrate."
The primate of Ireland said the Government was dealing with a crisis "which is partly Irish in its making and partly international in its making".
He admitted that "pretty drastic measures were needed" in order to bring about balance in public expenditure.
While some measures were needed, he warned the Government that it should always have "a special focus on those who are most vulnerable".
These included children, the elderly, and people in disadvantaged situations.
On the issue of youth unemployment, the archbishop said young people had "a right to be angry if we don't invest in them and give them the opportunity to realise themselves" with attractive employment opportunities.
"It is not the Government that creates jobs (but) a Government can create an environment which is job-friendly," he said.
"However, in the long term it is the private sector that has to generate a lot more jobs."
The archbishop said other areas needing investment were education, social protection and the health system.
Speaking as chairman of Crumlin Children's Hospital, he expressed concern over the fact that the hospital's income was going down while the number of sick children it was treating was going up, and the standards required by HIQA were also going up.
He warned this was creating a situation where there was "a much greater risk".
"You may have to say to people, we can only treat fewer children. That would be a terrible thing," he said.
"Everybody realises that the health system needs a huge overhaul so it can run more effectively," he said. "There are serious problems."