Minister for Transport Tourism and Sport Shane Ross has announced a three month extension to a pilot programme which provides late night transport services in rural areas.

The Local Link service is aimed at tackling social isolation, and was due to be initially rolled out for six months.

However following a review, the National Transport Authority found that the majority of the services were performing well.

In a statement, the Department of Transport said that six months was a "relatively short period within which to gauge passenger usage and trends", and extended the pilot programme for three months.

A further review of the services will take place then, the department said.

Since the summer, 65 extra services were added to the country's rural transport network.

The services ran from 6pm to 11pm, typically on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Mr Ross said: "I am pleased that almost all of the evening services will continue to run until 31 March 2019. Tackling rural isolation and providing the means for people to meet, socialise and attend events is extremely important.

"I would encourage people to use their Local Links as much as possible so we can continue to provide, and hopefully increase, this very useful service."

However, Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has called for local communities to be provided with access to minibuses, rather than the expansion of the Local Link service.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, the Roscommon-Galway TD said that particularly during the summer period, people in rural Ireland may be working until 10pm or later on the harvest and may then like to go for a drink, but are unable to do so.

He said a "bottom up" approach where ten or 12-seater buses are provided to local community groups through VRT exemptions and community loans would be a more practical approach.

He said this would allow communities to provide transport for people to various social events, as well as to and from pubs.

"I believe the system that I'm offering could be the new Dublin Bus of rural Ireland, but the community run it," he said.

Mr Fitzmaurice said this would help to keep pubs in rural areas in business, as well as providing a service to the communities.

He added that he has not done the costing on the proposal.