Joe Walsh, a former minister for agriculture and food, has died at the age of 71.

Mr Walsh began his political career at local authority level serving on Cork County Council and Cork County Committee of Agriculture.

Elected to the Dáil in 1977, Mr Walsh was a TD for Cork South West until 2007, with the exception of the period from June 1981 to February 1982 during which time he was a senator.

Mr Walsh served as Fianna Fáil minister for agriculture from 1992 to 1994 and from 1997 to 2004.

He had previously been minister of state with responsibility for the food industry.

During a long career, he chaired the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers and served on several boards, including Cork Racecourse (Mallow) Limited and the Irish Horse Board.

He was appointed a non-executive director of Bank of Ireland in 2009.

Mr Walsh died at Cork University Hospital following an illness.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny extended his sympathy to Mr Walsh's family.

In a statement, he said: "I knew Joe well throughout his career in the Oireachtas.

"He was a dedicated representative of the people of Cork South West and a hard-working and committed minister.

"He will be remembered in particular for his decisive and successful management of the foot and mouth crisis of 2001."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the death of Mr Walsh had come as a shock to his many friends.

He said: "His political leadership of the agriculture sector in this country over many years helped transform the sector into the economic keystone that it has become for our country today and the positive effects of his reforms will be felt for generations to come."

Mr Martin said that Mr Walsh has "devoted his entire life to public service and did so with immense skill and integrity".