A planned pilot scheme would see the operating hours of 38 existing rural routes extended
An evening and night-time rural bus service is being considered for 15 counties, as part of efforts to tackle the issue of rural isolation.
The proposed extended service will be on existing routes while it is being piloted, and is under active consideration by the Transport Minister Shane Ross.
The Sunday Independent reports that it would extend the operating hours of 38 rural routes.
A proposed one-year pilot is costed at around €1 million - which wouldn't include money taken back in through fares - and will mainly cover additional services between 11pm and midnight.
Fine Gael has developed the plan with LocalLink operators, which is overseen by the National Transport Authority.
It comes amid a plan by Minister Ross to introduce tough new drink driving laws - which has raised fresh concerns about rural isolation.
However, Fine Gael party chairman Martin Heydon says expanded public transport is about connecting rural communities and not just servicing pubs.
He explained: "If you look at these rural bus services at present, most of them finish at 3.30pm or 4pm in the day - and that's an awful long time in the evening for people who live alone or in areas that are quite isolated.
"The idea... is about giving people in those areas, who don't have access to transport, that option of being able to go into their nearest town or village, or perhaps even visit neighbours in those areas. It's about a lot more than just giving access to the local pub."
The expanded service would apply to routes in Cork, Kerry, Kildare, Limerick, Donegal, Waterford, Wexford, Laois, Offaly, Cavan, Monaghan, Westmeath, Longford, Meath and Tipperary.
Deputy Heydon added: "I've focused on existing routes. There is no capital outlay - these are routes that have existing buses, that are branded to Local Link buses, that have existing drivers. That keeps the cost to a minimum.
"The 38 rural bus routes that we've used [...] are the most successful established routes. These are routes that have proven passenger numbers during the daytime."