Taoiseach leads tributes to 'close friend who helped restore economy'
Taoiseach Enda Kenny paid tribute to the "extraordinary" contribution finance minister - and his "close personal friend" - Michael Noonan made to restoring the Irish economy after the crash.
He said he completely respected Mr Noonan's decision to retire at the next election and praised his "transformative influence" in recent years.
Mr Kenny added: "Above all else, Michael remains a close personal friend of mine."
Mr Noonan's announcement of his impending retirement after more than three decades in the Dáil followed Mr Kenny's departure as Fine Gael leader.
The Limerick man said he did not wish to be considered for a Cabinet post under the Taoiseach's successor.
He said it was a good time for a new finance minister, adding: "Ireland is the fastest growing economy in Europe, the budget is almost balanced and we are on the cusp of full employment."
Political adversaries took time to pay tribute to Mr Noonan in the Dáil.
Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath praised Mr Noonan for his public service and said: "You're certainly leaving the economy in a much better state than you found it." He said that Ireland's exit from the Troika bailout would be one of Mr Noonan's "notable achievements".
He credited Mr Noonan in being "straight" and "upfront" even if they didn't agree on every issue. Mr McGrath wished Mr Noonan well and hoped he gets to spend more quality time with his children and grandchildren.
Sinn Féin's Peadar Tóibín said Mr Noonan had a "very different world view in nearly every respect politically" but noted he had been "the mainstay of the Fine Gael party since I was a kid".
He wished him "many happy years with his family".
Mr Noonan (73) was first elected to the Dáil for his Limerick constituency in 1981. A previous leader of Fine Gael, he said he was honoured to serve as Finance Minister, having introduced six Budgets since 2011. He said it had been a privilege to represent the people of Limerick and that he would continue to do so until an election was called.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin, who served alongside Mr Noonan as public expenditure minister for five years, said: "I have learned to admire his political skills and respect his manifest competence."
Of the leadership contenders, Leo Varadkar said Mr Noonan was the "best finance minister in the history of the State", while Simon Coveney said he was "central to saving and rebuilding" the economy.