The Taoiseach has said that while there will not be a national day of mourning to mark the death of the Pope, schools will be allowed to close on Friday for the funeral if they want to.

Bertie Ahern added that arrangements could be made for employees who want to attend masses.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny welcomed the change of heart by Mr Ahern, but said it misses the importance of collective grieving for Irish people.

Mr Kenny and former MEP Dana Rosemary Scallon had called on the Government to reconsider its decision not to hold a national day of mourning to mark the Pope's death.

The Small Firms Association, which represents 8,000 businesses, said it strongly opposed a national day of mourning which, it claimed, would cost the economy €600m. 

The Director of the Association, Pat Delaney, said it would also set a dangerous precedent. 

He said employers would make every effort to accommodate workers who wished to take a day's annual leave to reflect on the Pontiff's death.

Yesterday, Mr Ahern announced that flags would fly at half-mast on all public buildings as a mark of respect. But, he said, there would be no national day of mourning.

This afternoon, Turlough O'Sullivan, Director General of IBEC, said: 'Once it is voluntary and subject to the maintenance of production and services, IBEC believes individual companies should decide what measures should be put in place to facilitate staff requests to attend religious ceremonies this Friday.

'As religious ceremonies can be attended before or after work there should be no disruption to business.'