The Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, has said the government is very disappointed that Aer Lingus has taken the decision to end the Shannon to Heathrow route.

Minister Dempsey said the decision is not in accordance regional development or aviation governmental policy.

But, he said, Aer Lingus is now a commercial company that has to make decisions on the basis of making money and the decision is theirs to make.

Mr Dempsey said he became aware of the Aer Lingus decision last Friday and has been in contact with the company and its chairman, John Sharman, on an ongoing basis over the course of this week.

He said he has asked Aer Lingus to engage with people in the mid west, to travel there to speak with those who are expressing concerns in an effort to explain the decision.

The Chairman and the CEO, Dermot Mannion, have agreed to do this in the coming week.

Mr Dempsey added that it is the government's desire that the people of the mid west have connectivity to as many places as possible.

He said the four slots at Heathrow are important but are not the bee-all and end-all.

He went on to say that the situation is serious but it is not as big a crisis as some people have been making out.

The campaign group that is opposing the Aer Lingus decision to end its Shannon to Heathrow service have condemned Mr Dempsey's comments that he does not intend to intervene in the controversy.

Shannon Development, which is leading the camopaign, says it is disappointed by Minister Dempsey's statement.

It's Chariman John Brassil said he also strongly disagreed with Minister Dempsey's suggestion that representatives of business, industry and toursim in the region were over-reacting to the seriousness of the situation.

He said the group would be considering the Ministers' announcement and issuing a fuller statement tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the campaign group  has said it is looking at the possibility of mounting a legal challange to the decision.

The group has engaged senior counsel and said that if a legal challenge could be mounted, it would be.

The group, which met at Shannon airport today, is also seeking immediate meetings with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Transport and has called for an emergency general meeting of Aer Lingus Shareholders to reverse the Heathrow decision.

Efforts are being made to find another airline to provide a replacement service if Aer Lingus refuses to reverse its decision.

Shannon meetings

Representatives of business, tourism and local politicians from the region met earlier today at the airport with Shannon Development chairman John Brassil appealing to the Government to come up with an innovative solution to the situation.

One of the questions raised was why the board of Aer Lingus was not involved in the decision and why it was left entirely in the hands of management to explore and finalise the move.

According to Limerick East Fianna Fáil TD Peter Power, the board should have been involved in the decision-making process - given the huge impact it will have on regional development along the entire western seaboard.

He said it was an appalling move, which would have to be fought.

However, an Aer Lingus spokesman told RTÉ News that the decision to introduce the Belfast-Heathrow service and end the Shannon service did not require a board meeting.

It was an operational and executive management decision and was in line with the corporate governance for a commercial public company.

So far there is no indication that Aer Lingus has any intension of reversing its decision but the opponents claim the battle to retain the Shannon London link is only just beginning.