The Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen, has said the Taoiseach 'was not incorrect' in accepting £8,000 from a group of businessmen following a dinner in Manchester.

Mr Cowen said Mr Ahern had accepted the payment on the basis that it was given in solidarity from the people concerned, at a period of personal difficulty for him.

The Taoiseach's circumstances at the time were known to people who knew him, Mr Cowen added.

Mr Cowen said he thinks today's statements by businessman John Kennedy in Manchester will help and assist Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in his recollection of events.

Mr Cowen said the statement also corroborated the informality of the occasion, and the fact the Taoiseach was there in a personal capacity and had been there on a number of occasions.

The fullest possible explanation Mr Ahern can give will be made in the Dáil next Tuesday, he added.

Mr Cowen said the Taoiseach had not in any way abused public office, and had not enriched himself by way of his engagement in politics.

Mr Cowen said Mr Ahern had not attended the Manchester function in an official capacity as Minister for Finance, had no official staff with him, had no official speech prepared for the occasion and the trip had not been paid for by his department.

Earlier, a Manchester businessman who was present at the dinner at which Bertie Ahern received the money said the payment was neither a political donation nor a loan.

Speaking to RTÉ News in Manchester, John Kennedy said that the then Minister for Finance was there as a private citizen.

He said the dinner was organised by the late Tim Kilroe - the owner of Aer Arann - and held at a hotel in the city.

Mr Kennedy said around 27 people were at the function and that a collection was made. He said Mr Ahern did not speak at the event.

Mr Kennedy, now retired, said the Mahon Tribunal has been in touch with him about what he knows about the payment.
Meanwhile, the Government Chief Whip has rejected calls for more time for a Dáil debate on payments to the Taoiseach.

Tom Kitt said he had spoken to the whips for Fine Gael and Labour, and believed the proposal he had put forward was 'very reasonable'.

Both Fine Gael and Labour had argued that the time in which to debate the matter was insufficient.

The Taoiseach has said he will be answering questions next Tuesday about the controversy.