Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has announced he will not stand in the forthcoming general election.
Declaring his retirement from politics, Mr Ahern said it was time for a new guard to direct Ireland through a difficult future.
"Now it is time to stand aside, to pass on the baton and allow others to continue the race," he said.
"The future is always unfolding. The unfolding future I see is one of difficulty that will be surmounted, of challenges that will be met and of a country that will achieve its potential.
"A new generation will define that potential. They will strike out towards new frontiers and they will set a new agenda. Such is life and such especially is political life."
Taoiseach Brian Cowen said his colleague's departure from political leadership "truly marks the end of an era".
Mr Cowen added: "He is without question the consummate politician of our generation in this country. He is a person of rare ability and extraordinary talent. He has an immense work ethic and he is a superb negotiator."
Mr Ahern was first elected to the Dail in 1977. Announcing his decision to stand down after 40 years in Fianna Fail, Mr Ahern said it was hard or impossible for some people to keep faith in the country's future. But he insisted there was genuine cause for confidence based on the real, sustainable and lasting gains which Ireland has made in recent times.
"The truth about the achievements of the past decade and about the prospects for the one unfolding in front of us now is that, despite what the critics may say, neither extreme of arrogant over-confidence or self-defeating pessimism are justified or helpful," he said.
"Ireland is not 'banjaxed'," he said. "Ireland is not 'an economic corpse'."