A new programme has been launched in Ireland to counter isolation suffered by LGBT people in rural communities.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Diversity programme aims to coordinate support services for LGBT people across the country.

The launch comes just one day after Irish president Mary McAleese signed a civil partnerships bill into law.

Regional development workers will be posted to the more isolated areas of the country to identify LGBT people’s needs and work with local health services.

Derek McDonnell, programme manager the initiative, said mainstream services cannot provide adequate support for LGBT people, which can lead to an increased risk of mental health problems.

He said: “Despite recent progress for LGBT people in Ireland, a significant number still find it difficult to be ‘out’ and remain living in their local communities. Much of this is the result of a lack of recognition that all communities are made up of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

“Many LGBT people migrate towards Dublin or other cities because they feel they cannot play a full role in the community in which they were born and raised.”

The programme has been developed with the help of 11 LGBT organisations and is funded by Atlantic Philanthropies.

Pat Carey, the minister for community, equality and Gaeltacht affairs, launched the programme.

According to the Irish Times, he said: “Irish society has not always been as supportive of gay people as it should have been, particularly in rural Ireland.

“Young LGBT people who felt isolated in rural communities, and unable to be true to themselves, have often felt forced to move away to cities.”