Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has said that he will not contest his Dáil seat at the next General Election.

In a statement this morning, Mr Ahern said he had informed his local party organisation in Co Louth that, after 32 years as a public representative, he is stepping down at the next election.

He said he also informed his Cabinet colleagues this morning.

Mr Ahern said that following the 2007 election he came to a decision with his family that it would be his last.

He said he informed Taoiseach Brian Cowen of his intention in October and confirmed that decision with him last weekend.

Mr Ahern said that in the last 18 months he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 'necessitating heavy medication'.

He said he has been advised that a change in his 'pace of life is essential in coping with this condition'.

Mr Ahern served as a councillor for 12 years, a TD for 24 years and minister for over 13 years.

He has served as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Social Welfare and Communications.

His announcement means that one of the Taoiseach's most experienced ministers will not be taking an active part in the most challenging election for Fianna Fáil in generations.

The minister denied that the presence of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams as an election candidate for Louth was a factor in his decision.

Mr Adams has wished the Justice Minister well. However, he said 'his colleagues in Government should now join him and a general election should be held immediately'.

Brian Cowen has paid tribute to Mr Ahern and said he was 'one of the most able, experienced and hard-working politicians of his generation'.

Cowen best person to lead FF - Ahern

Mr Ahern says he believes Brian Cowen is the best person to lead Fianna Fáil into the General Election next year.

Mr Ahern said the Taoiseach is an extremely hardworking politician and history would judge him better than he is viewed at the moment.

The Justice Minister said his own proudest contribution to politics was his involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Asked why he was leaving politics at such a critical time for Fianna Fáil and the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern said there is never a good time to go.

Mr Ahern will now get a pension of about €128,000 a year, and a lumpsum of €150,000 on his Dáil salary. However, he said he didn't enter politics for the money, and he now has no solicitors practice to return to.