The huge increases in visitor numbers announced by Shannon Heritage for last year, is further evidence that Government policy in relation to tourism has been a game changer for the industry in County Clare.

In the lead up to the last election, I and others in my party singled out tourism as a industry which, if given the right supports, could get this country back on its feet and reignite the economy in County Clare.

The figures from Shannon Heritage today shows that the tourist industry has benefitted hugely from this Government and has been one of the economic success stories both locally and nationally over the past few years.

The figures show an increases of over 8% for Shannon Heritage attractions, last year, and this on the back of gains in 2014 also. Apart from Shannon Heritage run sites, the Cliffs of Moher, run by Cliffs of Moher Centre Ltd, saw a 15% increase in visitors in 2015.

I want to welcome the comments by Shannon Heritage CEO John Ruddle who pointed to “the increased number of visitors coming through Shannon Airport” as undoubtedly being “a major factor” in the gains.

This backs up what I and others have long known – that a healthy Shannon Airport is a huge contributor to an economically vibrant Mid-West.

Whereas Fianna Fáil and others see increased passengers numbers in Shannon Airport as a threat to other Airports, I, and my party, believe that a well-supported and thriving Shannon Airport benefits the whole of the Mid-West region.

The facts are that in the last five years we have seen more routes, more passengers and more opportunities for business at Shannon, and we want an opportunity to continue what we’ve started at the Airport and the greater Shannon region.

I welcome the fact also that French airline ASL has applied for permission to serve Paris and Shannon to Providence Rhode Island between May and September 2016. I would encourage all key stakeholders in the local area to get behind this new route from May onwards.

I want to pay tribute to the work of Shannon Heritage and congratulate them on these superb visitor numbers and the work they are doing both domestically and internationally to keeping the recovery going.

The 9% VAT rate; the abolition of the travel tax; the separation of Shannon Airport from the shackles of the DAA and the setting up of a new board and management structure at Shannon Airport are all policies I argued and lobbied hard for.

Despite the doomsday warnings from opposition TDs, we have succeeded in changing the fortunes of not only Shannon Airport, but the Irish tourist industry as a whole.

We want to be able to continue to impact positively on this sector for many years to come.