The President and Taoiseach have led tributes to the journalist and broadcaster Rodney Rice, who has died at the age of 76 following a short illness.

A reporter, producer and presenter with RTÉ for more than 40 years, he was best known for fronting Saturday View on RTÉ Radio 1 for 25 years.

He also produced and presented Worlds Apart which focused on the area of international development.

He retired in 2009 but continued to support agencies who work in the developing world such as Trócaire and Action Aid, where he served as chairman.

President Michael D Higgins said Rodney Rice introduced a world of freedom struggles, inequality, famine and forced migrations to Irish audiences through his pioneering work.

He also said Rodney Rice was one of the earliest, bravest and most consistent voices in opposing apartheid in South Africa.

President Higgins said that in his investigative work and his radio programmes, Rodney Rice promoted debate and understanding of Irish public affairs and helped to shape RTÉ's current affairs broadcasting.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Rodney Rice was a brilliant political reporter, presenter and producer who left a lasting legacy with his work in international aid.

Born in Whiteabbey, Co Antrim, in 1944, he studied Political Science at Trinity College Dublin before getting a job in the Belfast Telegraph.

He joined RTÉ in 1968 at the age of 24, where he first reported on the television current affairs programme 7 Days.

In 1972, he moved to radio and two years later he began presenting Here and Now, a daily mid-morning news and current affairs programme which he anchored for nine years.

In 1984, to took the helm of Saturday View which he presented for a quarter of a century and developed into an arena for political debate which often featured the country's most senior politicians.

It was on Saturday View, during the 1990 presidential campaign, that the then Fianna Fáil minister Pádraig Flynn controversially referred to what he called Mary Robinson's new-found interest in her family, a comment which was widely regarded as having derailed Brian Lenihan's presidential campaign.

Alongside politics, his other passion was development issues and he produced and presented the Worlds Apart series for 23 years, reporting extensively from across Africa.

In 1981, he was banned from South Africa for 10 years after a programme he made on the apartheid regime, of which he was a vocal critic.

He hosted RTÉ's television coverage of Nelson Mandela's release from prison and the special concert held to mark his visit to Ireland.

Rodney Rice hosting a concert in Dublin's Gaiety Theatre to mark the release of Nelson Mandela, that was attended by Winnie Mandela

On his final broadcast in July 2009, he said it had been a privilege to bring the Irish people the issues of the day through the voices of their political representatives.

He also said it was a huge privilege to be allowed to bring the voices of the world's poor into Irish homes through the Worlds Apart series.

RTÉ's Head of Radio 1 Peter Woods has paid tribute to his contribution to Irish broadcasting

"Rodney Rice was a central part of a generation who first defined broadcasting in this country. He began to present Here and Now in 1974, the predecessor of the Today with Claire Byrne programme, establishing the centrality of politics and current affairs in Irish life and on the radio," he said.

"He presented Saturday View, bringing some of that formula to the weekends. His programmes had many triumphs, not least during the 1990 presidential election campaign. But Rodney always remained a journalist first and never got in the way of the story.

"He had a commitment to Third World development issues that stemmed from his abhorrence of apartheid. Those of us who worked with him learned much from him - his commitment to public service broadcasting and to the pursuit of the story. He was a real presence in the Radio Centre and was missed when he retired.

"Rodney Rice set standards. He never underestimated the importance of broadcast journalism and never accepted second best. To have produced an election programme presented by Rodney Rice was a career benchmark for many".

RTÉ's Director General Dee Forbes described him as a pioneering journalist.

"When Rodney Rice retired in 2009, he brought to a close a distinguished forty year broadcasting career. From his days as a television reporter on 7 Days, through to Here and Now and Worlds Apart on radio, he was a journalistic pioneer, with a unique grasp of global issues alongside a forensic knowledge of current affairs closer to home," she said.

"With Saturday View on RTÉ Radio 1 he established a national debate forum, often for the country’s most senior politicians. Rodney sat in the Saturday View chair for more than 25 years, covering the stories of the day and often making them too.

"We remember him with much respect, and deep admiration. Our sympathies to Rodney’s wife Margo, and his children, Cian, Caitriona and Eoghan."

Rodney Rice is survived by his wife Margo, his children Cian, Caitriona and Eoghan, in-laws Barbara, Joe and Sorcha, and his seven grandchildren, Tessa, Zoey, Maxine, Connla, Liadh, Thomas and Fiach.