The Irish government and state officials in Rhode Island have confirmed that moves are already underway into establishing a direct international flight between Shannon Airport and the state's capital, Providence.

During his visit to the state yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there was huge potential to strengthen trade and tourism ties between Ireland and the US's smallest state.

And he confirmed that the possibility of an international air link between both territories was already being discussed by officials in both Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland and Rhode Island.

Kenny's visit to Rhode Island followed his hosting of the state's Democratic governor Lincoln Chafee on a trade mission to Ireland earlier this year.

He also revealed that ties had since been strengthened in the intervening period since the governor's visit by a separate visit from Irish trade groups, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, as well as other Irish business groups.

Kenny, who had attended the United Nation's climate change summit in New York prior his visit to Rhode Island, addressed an audience in the state that included its senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and key Irish and American businesspeople.

He said: "Clearly, business people here would see that as being of great interest and great potential, as would the mid-west region.

"I see enormous potential both ways here and this is the start of a process of engagement of deeper links between the United States and Rhode Island.

Speaking to the Irish Times, Senator Reed said that Shannon and Rhode Island could work well together and stressed authorities in the state were "working awfully hard" to set up the direct air link with Ireland.

He said that air cargo could be moved quickly through Rhode Island onto the inter-state highway system in the American North East, while plans were already in place to extend Providence airport by 2017 to accommodate the world's biggest aircraft.

"This would be something that would encourage travel both ways because this is a great gateway to Ireland, as well as a gateway to America," he said.

Governor Chafee also told The Irish Times of his support for the project, adding it "would be huge for our area around the airport".

Business chiefs pointed out that Rhode Island is just an hour from Boston and three hours from New York City, adding that lower-cost Providence could offer a cheaper alternative route.

ABC6, who reported on the visit, also noted that trade links are already being forged through an Irish food company, which is in the process of building a huge production company in the state's Quonset Business Park.

The broadcaster also pointed out that Ireland has a booming internet and food service economy - two things Rhode Island is trying to cultivate.

Business aside, Kenny's also visited the Rhode Island Irish Famine Memorial, where he praised Governor Chafee for pardoning Irish immigrant John Gordon, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1845.

Gordon was the last man to be executed in the tiny state. He was pardoned three years ago - 166 years after his death.