Tributes have been paid to Bertie Ahern in the Dáil on his last day in the House as Taoiseach.

Minister for Health Mary Harney said she believed the key to Mr Ahern's success was his personal qualities, saying he had embraced impossible tasks and made them happen.

The Taoiseach was described as having 'an unequalled zest for people' by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny.

Mr Kenny said the public felt valued and important when they were listened to by the Taoiseach.

'Bertie Ahern was popular and had always been focused on the people and aware of their needs,' he said.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore declared that today was the end of an era in Irish politics.

But he said Mr Ahern had enjoyed office during a period of sustained growth.

Mr Gilmore stressed that many positive things had been done in Bertie Ahern's time in office but said there were other things he should have done.

The Green Party's Eamon Ryan said Mr Ahern had been a hard-working politician who had been good at consensus politics.

While Sinn Féin's Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin congratulated Mr Ahern for the peace process, which he said had guaranteed Mr Ahern's place in history.

But he said the governments led by Mr Ahern had failed to deliver an adequate health service.

Last Dáil appearance

Bertie Ahern does not attend the house on Thursdays, and departs for Washington before it convenes next week.

On Tuesday 6 May he will tender his resignation to President Mary McAleese.

This will take effect on the following day when the Dáil is expected to vote Brian Cowen in to succeed him.

Mr Cowen will then travel to Áras an Uachtaráin to receive his seal of office before naming his new Cabinet.

Tánaiste Brian Cowen said this morning that anyone who does not recognise the achievements of Bertie Ahern during his career is out of touch with the feelings of the Irish people.

He said that he was looking forward to taking on his new role as Taoiseach, but while Bertie Ahern remained in office he enjoyed the full support of his colleagues.

Mr Cowen was speaking as he arrived to address an ICTU conference on globalisation.

The Fianna Fáil Leader-Designate reiterated his support for the Social Partnership process ahead of new talks beginning tomorrow.

However he warned that whatever deal was eventually agreed would have to work for all sides and address key issues including productivity and competitiveness.