President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to broadcaster Gay Byrne who has died at the age of 85.

The President described Mr Byrne as a man of great charisma and someone who "exuded warmth and presence".

President Higgins said: "Through his work in radio and on television he challenged Irish society, and shone a light not only on the bright but also the dark sides of Irish life.

"In doing so, he became one of the most familiar and distinctive voices of our times, helping shape our conscience, our self-image, and our idea of who we might be. 

"Beyond compassion, which he had in abundance, he had a sense of what was just."

President Higgins and his wife Sabina expressed their deepest sympathy to Mr Byrne's family and all his friends and colleagues.

The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has expressed his sadness on hearing of the passing of Gay Byrne who he described as a "broadcaster but also a change maker." 

He said he was "someone who helped to transform, modernise and open up our country, allowed us to talk about things that were taboo or never spoken about before."

Mr Varadkar said that when he was Minister for Transport, he knew Mr Byrne personally as chair of the Road Safety Authority: "He helped us to reduce the number of deaths on the road and was always diligent and very fair," he said.

"Crucially, he was very supportive of whistle-blowers at a very difficult and important time during one of our road safety campaigns. He is somebody who is going to be really missed."

He said Gay Byrne was "the most influential broadcaster in the history of the State, a much-loved figure who changed Ireland for the better in so many ways.

"On radio and on television over so many decades 'Uncle Gaybo' provided a voice for all those who had been silenced or were afraid to speak up, and helped us confront things that needed to be changed."

RTÉ Director-General Dee Forbes said Mr Byrne "was an exceptional broadcaster whose unique and ground-breaking style contributed so much to the development of radio and television in this country".

Ms Forbes said RTÉ is "greatly saddened" by the death of Mr Byrne "who has been a household name in this country for so many years.

She said Mr Byrne's journalistic legacy is "colossal". 

"He not only defined generations, but he deftly arbitrated the growth and development of a nation.

"Ireland grew up under Gay Byrne, and we will never see his like again."

Chair of RTÉ Moya Doherty described Mr Byrne "as a close and cherished friend for many years."

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"He was, of course, fortunate to be working at the moment when television and radio were in their golden age, when Ireland was beginning to think deeply about what it meant to be a global presence in a rapidly changing social and cultural world.

"Gay brought two unique gifts. He was able to see around societal corners and predict what the next emerging social, political, or cultural issue was, the new issue which needed to be brought to the public stage, whatever the ensuing controversy."

"Most importantly Gay was a listener. He did not so much interview as allow his guests to almost interview themselves while he listened carefully interjecting only to push them on key points.

"Combined with this he had an unerring capacity to spot new talent and even if he did not personally much like what that talent might be he still knew the significance it might have in showcasing Ireland to the world."

Former president Mary McAleese said Byrne was not just a showman or an entertainer, saying he invested in the public as people.

"He worked for us, he wanted to work for us, he was curious about us, he believed in us, and there was nothing that he was not willing to explore to help us just move forward as a people."

Broadcaster Ryan Tubridy said: "It is with enormous and profound sadness that I heard of the passing of my friend and mentor, Gay Byrne.

"He was the master, a once off and the likes of which we will never see again.

"I watched him as a child, worked alongside him as a young man and he guided me as I grew older and I will forever be indebted to him.

"We in RTÉ have lost a friend, a family have lost a father and a husband and the country has lost an icon."

Broadcaster Joe Duffy said: "More so than any one individual, Gay Byrne represented modern Ireland and through his daily broadcasting on radio and television he propelled this country and its people forward.

"In no other country can one individual claim to have had such a positive impact on an entire nation over such a long period.

"Ireland is a better country thanks to Gay's lengthy career behind the microphone at the centre of public discourse

"He brightened and enlightened the lives of so many people through his broadcasting, his charm, wit, voice, and wonderful command of the English language.

"His broadcasts were a public joy, a personal pleasure and comfort to so many. Like so many I feel his passing as a deeply personal loss. He was a generous mentor and good friend to me, as he was to so many.

"He worked hard all his life. He searched for meaning, and gave meaning to so many.

"His death is heartbreaking but I, like so many, am very thankful for his life."

Actor Stephen Fry, whose comments on religion during an interview with Byrne sparked controversy in 2015, also paid tribute to him.

"My most notorious experience with Himself came when he dropped me a question which led to quite a hoo-ha. I fear I shocked him somewhat with my reply, but he couldn't not have been more delightful, charming and – I think – tolerantly amused by my wickedness. So here's to Himself. Who knows? Maybe he will wake up in a certain place and be able to pass on my regards."

TV personality Graham Norton described Gay as a giant in broadcasting who "showed us all how it should be done".

In a statement the Road Safety Authority said Gay gave eight years of public service as Chairperson of the RSA from its inception in September 2006 until September 2014

"The appointment of Gay as Chairperson of the then newly formed RSA was a landmark day for road safety in this country. He was a tireless campaigner for road safety. He put road safety at the top of the political and social agenda in this country.

"He oversaw a period when radical changes to our road safety policies and laws were introduced and his voice was instrumental is winning over public acceptance for action on road safety."

"As a result many lives were saved and injuries prevented. He championed road safety at a time when 365 people were dying annually on Irish roads. During his time as Chairperson the number of people dying in road trauma was reduced almost by half in Ireland."

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Gay has left an indelible mark, not only on Irish broadcasting, but on Irish society as a whole.

He described Mr Byrne as a "true public servant" and said he was "a rare treasure who touched the lives, not only of his family and friends, but the hundreds of thousands of people who welcomed him into their lives on the radio and tv."

A book of condolence for Gay Byrne will be opened at Dublin's Mansion House tomorrow at 11am until 5pm and from 10am until 5pm on Wednesday.