Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has announced details of where 500 extra places on the Rural Social Scheme are to be allocated and has also promised extra places again next year.

The RSS provides vital community services in rural areas and it is being expanded for the first time in 11 years.

The increase brings the total number of places from 2,600 to 3,100, the last increase was 2006 when it went up by 100 from 2,500 to 2,600.

The expansion of the scheme was announced in last October's Budget.

The 500 extra places have been spread across 36 schemes, including 60 extra places to Údarás na Gaeltachta (in Mayo 24, Donegal 23, Galway 8, Cork 2 and Kerry 3), 46 to Donegal Local Development Co Ltd and 32 to Galway Rural Development Co Ltd.

The counties with the biggest allocation of overall places for 2017 are Mayo (641), Galway (325) and Donegal (308).

The scheme aims to harness the skills and talents available among low-income farmers and fishermen while at the same time providing income support to them.

Participants work for 19.5 hours per week in return for a €22 top up on their weekly Farm Assist payment.

The work they do - which is delivered through 35 local development companies and Údarás na Gaeltachta - is undertaken primarily to support local service provision via community, voluntary and not for profit organisations, provided that this does not displace existing service provision or employment. 

Mr Varadkar said: "I am very pleased to be in a position to allocate 500 additional places around the country and if successful, I will seek extra places for 2018.

"This move forms an important part of the Government's commitment to rural Ireland and ensuring that all parts of the country and people from all walks of life benefit from the economic recovery."