Pilot schemes in five country districts will be selected after Easter in a year-long project costing €500,000 a year.
Mr Ó Cuiv strongly attacked claims the service was intended to “ferry drunks up and down every byway in rural Ireland”.
Speaking in Galway he insisted Dublin and the eastern counties should not be considered more of a priority for investment than the west.
“I continually hear knee-jerk reaction which goes something like ‘What? Buses at night in rural areas? How can the Government shamelessly subsidise pubs with taxpayers money?’” he said, pointing out one-third of the population still lives in isolated communities.
The minister insisted he was not creating a fleet of “booze buses” which would “supposedly ferry drunks to and from the pub and up and down every highway, byway and laneway of rural Ireland”.
He claimed bias in the capital-centred media was to blame for the impression.
“Article after article from the Dublin-based press derided the idea that people in rural areas might have a night-time transport system to ferry them to and from the pub.
“I was proposing a night-time rural transport system, to tackle rural social isolation, which would be community-led and provide transport to social gatherings, bingo, Mass, youth clubs, etc, — and amongst those would be transport to the pub,” he said.
Some political opponents claim the timing of the high-profile rural bus scheme is intended to boost Fianna Fáil hopes in rural areas ahead of the expected May 18 General Election.
“Now, with an election in the air, I believe that rural people have to make absolute use of their right to be heard,” said Mr Ó Cuiv.
“Vote for whatever party you believe is doing the most for rural development, but make sure you let the politicians who come knocking on your doors over the next few months that rural development is a priority issue,” he said.
A spokesperson for Mr Ó Cuiv said it was expected people would use the extra bus services to attend events such as Mass and youth clubs rather than the pub.
“I believe there is a need in rural Ireland for an evening transport service to allow rural people to fully participate in the various activities — community, sporting and social — that takes place in their areas and to address the market failure that currently exists,” the minister said.
Services in 23 of the 34 Rural Transport Programme areas have indicated a willingness to participate in pilot schemes for the late night service.