Former Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil TD Bertie Ahern has confirmed that he will not be contesting the next General Election.

Mr Ahern told a Fianna Fail party meeting in Dublin that after standing 'successfully in 12 elections', he was 'now at the end of his long journey of learning and of leading'.

He made his announcement in an address to his local O'Donovan Rossa Cumann.

Mr Ahern said it was now time to pass on the baton and 'allow others to continue the race'.

Mr Ahern marked 40 years in politics this week and will be remembered for the controversy over his personal finances and for his role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen paid tribute to Mr Ahern this evening, saying his decision marked the end of an era.

'He is without question the consummate politician of our generation in this country. He is a person of rare ability and extraordinary talent.'

'As Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern will always be associated with peace on our island. Building on the work of his predecessors, he was the joint architect of the Good Friday Agreement. His persistence, his skills and his commitment ensured that the Agreement was implemented and built upon.'

Political career

Prior to becoming Taoiseach in 1997, Bertie Ahern held most of the important cabinet portfolios including Finance, Labour and Industry and Commerce.

His career in politics began at 17 years of age when he joined Fianna Fáil.

He became a TD in 1977 and began to progress up the party hierarchy.

In 1987 he was made Minister for Labour. He later spent periods as Minister for Industry and Commerce and Minister for Finance.

Following the collapse of the Fianna Fáil / Labour Government in 1994, Mr Ahern was elected leader of his party and three years later, he led Fianna Fáil into coalition with the Progressive Democrats.

During his time as Taoiseach he has won acclaim for the role he played in the peace process - helping to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

However his spell in office was plagued by questions about his financial affairs in the 1990s.