The Minister for Transport, Seamus Brennan, has asked Iarnród Éireann to maintain full DART services for the month of December.

An Iarnród Éireann spokesman had initially denied any approach was made.

But a government spokeswoman insisted tonight that Mr Brennan had asked CIÉ to reconsider their plans to upgrade the DART starting this weekend.

She said Mr Brennan is expecting to hear back from the company, and that he had asked them either to postpone the work or at the very least suspend it for the three weekends before Christmas.

The spokeswoman said the Minister understood there would be a cost implication but it was nothing that couldn't be offset.

The government spokeswoman said that with a project of this scale 'it would have been wise to advise the government of the severity of this and the imminent commencement of it.'

However it is understood that the Transport Minister does not have power to direct the company to change its plans.

It emerged today that large sections of the DART network in the capital were to close at weekends for 18 months.

Iarnród Éireann said this afternoon that its work would be suspended for the last two Saturdays before Christmas. The decision was announced following reaction from small businesses in Dublin to the news.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio, the Director of the Small Firms Association, Pat Delaney, said the decision would be a disaster, and he doubted whether CIÉ would put on enough extra buses for people who would normally travel on the DART.

Mr Delaney had called on Iarnród Éireann to suspend the works for the four weekends before Christmas. The Dublin City Centre Business Association had also condemned the decision.

Iarnród Éireann announced this morning that Dublin's DART rail network would be shut every weekend for the next year and a half as part of an upgrade programme.

Iarnród Éireann says the closures are necessary to facilitate upgrading works which will increase passenger capacity by 30%.

The first, starting on Saturday, will involve the Dublin southside DART line from Pearse Station to Greystones. It will be closed at weekends until next June at the earliest.

The northside and city centre DART sections will also be closed for a further nine months as part of an upgrading programme costing €176m.