Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has asked a high level inter-departmental group to examine the options for alternative air links to Shannon.

Senior officials from five Government departments will be involved in the initiative, which is designed to try to defuse the continuing political and economic row over the axing of the Shannon-Heathrow link.

Mr Ahern has asked the group to examine all of the available options for supporting air services to and from Shannon; to assess the implications of aviation connectivity for companies in the area and to review the level of Government investment in the region.

A Government spokesman said the group would work through enterprise development agencies in the mid-west and would keep an open door for groups wishing to discuss ways of finding solutions to the problems at Shannon Airport.

Last night, the newly formed west coast lobby group, The Atlantic Connectivity Alliance, welcomed the Taoiseach's intervention but said that its campaign would be intensified in the coming weeks.