Ireland has been selected to be the first country to take part in Mexico's social tourism programme.

Under the programme, federal employees in Mexico will be given up to US$2,300 (€1,670) in credit for them to travel to designated partner countries. 

The Mexican Social Security Agency (IMSS) will provide the funds through Turissste, which has partnered with Irish company Abbey Tourism and Mexican travel company SCI Viajes to deliver the initiative.

Up to two million people are eligible to participate.

It offers community and voluntary work as well as cultural and artistic elements. Participants can also study English while in Ireland.

Launching the programme in Mexico, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said: "The Mexican people do not need a visa to travel to Ireland, which is a major advantage in attracting Mexican visitors to Ireland." 

He said: "I hope as a result of the signing of this agreement we will see in the coming years a substantial number of tourists from Mexico visiting Ireland."

The minister said the activities included in the programme aim to promote social inclusion and the development of communities.

"This is an ideal that is absolutely worth supporting, together with opportunities to enjoy the rich cultural heritage Ireland has to offer," he added.

An Ireland-Mexico business conference will be held in Dublin on the 1-2 May.