The Shannon heritage sites of the famous Bunratty Castle and Folk park, the historic Craggaunowen site, and Knappogue Castle, as well as King John's Castle in Limerick are to transfer over to the ownership and management of Clare and Limerick local councils.

The Shannon Group, which manages the airport, the Shannon Property Company and the Shannon Heritage Company has confirmed in a statement it is in discussions with both local authorities in Clare and Limerick on the transfer of its heritage group to them.

The position of the 200 staff employed by the heritage group will be fully protected. It is expected it will be business as usual under the Shannon Group until at least the end of the year, as work continues on making the transfer a reality.

A spokesperson for the group said: "The transfer of these heritage sites aligns with the two local authorities' tourism development strategies and will provide opportunities for enhancing synergies and maximising the potential of these heritage sites in the region.

"The central role which local authorities are playing in tourism product development and sustainable tourism development make them a natural fit for Shannon Heritage."

It is understood the Shannon Group is concentrating now on restoring the airport business and refocusing its energies on getting vital air connectivity, which has been devastated by the impact of the Covid pandemic, back to the airport as soon as more widespread international travel is allowed.

Shannon Airport had no services during the pandemic, except for cargo flights and a number of flights delivering much needed PPE and other vital health supplies to fight the virus.

It was further devastated when Aer Lingus announced last month that it was ending its long held crew base there.

Ryanair resumed eight scheduled services from Shannon to the UK, Spain, and Poland in mid-June

The statement added that State agencies in the region are committed to recovery from the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on the airport and on overseas visitors to the midwest.

The arrangements announced today will assist Shannon Group to focus on the recovery of the airport, building back international passengers as soon as possible, while continuing to develop its aviation cluster and associated property activities.

Shannon Group will maintain an important relationship with the visitor attractions by rebuilding vital air services at Shannon to support the return of much needed international tourists to Ireland.

While an agreement in principle has been reached with Clare County Council, it will take some months to conclude and is subject to due diligence and formal consent of the Ministers for Transport, Public Expenditure and Reform and agreement with the Minister for Housing Local Government and Heritage. It is the intention of the parties that the transfer will be completed by the end of 2021.

Engagement is taking place with employees and those directly affected by these changes. The employment rights of all its 200 employees will not change and will be fully protected.

The Shannon Heritage County Clare based visitor attractions to transfer to Clare County Council are:

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park; Knappogue Castle, Craggaunowen Bronze Age Park, and the Cliffs of Moher retail outlet.

In tandem with this, a Heads of Agreement will provide for the transfer of King John's Castle to Limerick City and County Council.

Shannon Group will shortly engage with interested parties concerning the future operation of Dunguaire Castle in Co Galway.

Shannon Heritage currently manages a number of day visitor attractions in Dublin on behalf of Fingal County Council and An Post.

It is Shannon Group's intention to conclude these operating contracts and Shannon Group will work closely with both parties to ensure the smooth transition of the operations.

Commenting on the announcement a Shannon Group spokesperson said: "At a time of unprecedented challenge in the aviation sector, there is consensus that the recovery of aviation is critical to the recovery of tourism. 75% of our tourism economy is dependent on international visitation and 90% of those come by air.

"The agreement will enable Shannon Group to concentrate our energies on restoring passenger numbers at the airport, thereby supporting local economic activity, attracting tourists and enabling foreign and indigenous company investment in the region.

The news has been welcomed by Independent TD for Clare Michael McNamara, who said he had spoken of the proposal to Clare County Council last summer, said he believes it will give a new lease of life to these vital heritage tourism assets and to staff who have found themselves in a precarious position over the past 16 months.