John Hume showed "extraordinary courage, tenacity and persistence" in carrying through with his message of peace "despite many a dark hour", the Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
Tributes are being paid to the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and one of the principal architects of the Northern Ireland Peace Process who died today at 83.
Mr Martin told Newstalk's Lunchtime Live that today was a day to "remember and give thanks to a life that gave so much to the island of Ireland in terms of peace and reconciliation and championing the fundamental values of any true democratic society".
Mr Hume was a founding member of the SDLP whose efforts of over 30 years paved the way for the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
His work was valued not only at home but also extended to the European Parliament and the United States where he gained the interest of successive Presidents, including Bill Clinton, which culminated in the Good Friday Agreement.
The Taoiseach said "all of us are in his debt" and that the Hume family should know they are in "the hearts and minds of everyone today" who have "genuine gratitude for a life that left such a powerful legacy for all of us".
Mr Martin, who grew up during the period of the Troubles, said Mr Hume was "one of the shining lights" who kept arguing for peace.
He said: "I actually never thought we would get to where we did with the Good Friday Agreement and because of his persistence and conviction about the fundamental values he believed in is why we achieved that peace and why it's a different island today to what it was then.
"He is truly an inspirational figure.
"His work is truly inspiring in terms of leaving with us that sense of fundamental and basic values of rights and decency and public service.
"[He showed] wonderful work ethic, great courage and great fortitude that we should take with us and value that young people should seek to emulate in the times ahead."
The Taoiseach said Mr Hume was "passionate and he wore his feelings on his demeanour on his facial expressions, he carried the hurt with him".
"He also brought with his hope and he stayed steadfast to the ideal and I think he ultimately did triumph with the non-violent approach.
"He achieved this through doggedness and through persistence he kept going, notwithstanding all the enormous obstacles that were there at the time.
Former US president Bill Clinton had previously described Mr Hume as "the Martin Luther King of Northern Ireland".
The Taoiseach said: "I think it's a very good description by Bill Clinton comparing his to Martin Luther King, because in many ways John Hume embodied those basic principles."
On trying to negotiate peace in Northern Ireland by speaking privately with Gerry Adams, Mr Martin said Mr Hume "never stopped trying and he saw the opportunity at that time to make a breakthrough".
"He has the courage of his convictions, he was prepared to take risks to make peace."
He added that Mr Hume's legacy would endure.
The Taoiseach said: "We have an obligation to follow through on his work and to put flesh on the bone of his legacy by constantly working to bring people together, to develop constructive relationships.
"John Hume understood perfectly well the essence of the Good Friday Agreement and the three sets of relationships, British, Irish, North, South and between the two traditions on the island and I'll follow through on that and I'll see it as my obligation."