Figures from the Central Statistics Office show that the number of overseas visitors to Ireland increased by over 13% in the first half of the year, compared to the same period last year.

The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, John O'Donoghue, has welcomed the figures.

There was also an increase of almost 7% in estimated revenue earnings in the same period.

Mr O'Donoghue said Ireland was on course to achieve the target increase of 4.9% in visitor numbers for all of 2006.

The statistics show an increase in visitor numbers from all Ireland's major tourism markets.

Britain showed an increase of over 10% in tourism numbers compared to the corresponding period in 2005.

The figures for mainland Europe show an increase of 22%.

Mr O'Donoghue said North America remained a critical market for the Irish tourism industry because American visitors traditionally spend more, stay longer and travel more widely than the average.

He said Tourism Ireland had completed a detailed review of the American market and he hoped to launch the details in the near future.

The minister said Ireland was on course to achieve the target increases in visitors and associated revenues of 4.9% and 6.6%for all of 2006.

Mr O'Donoghue appealed to all sectors of the community to play their part in welcoming visitors to Ireland during the forthcoming Ryder Cup golf competition.