FINE GAEL TD Frank Feighan, who was "more interested in dreaming about playing for Liverpool than learning Irish at school", is attempting to persuade the English-speaking population of an island off the west coast to become Irish speakers.

Feighan, whose recent appointment as the party's spokesman on Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs provoked criticism as he does not speak Irish, has pledged to make Clare Island Irish-speaking.

The island is the largest of Mayo's offshore islands and has a population of 160 people. Feighan believes he can convert the island into a Gaeltacht area.

He came up with the idea during a recent visit to the island to discuss issues such as unemployment, tourism and broadband infrastructure with the islanders and representatives of bodies such as Conradh na Gaeilge and Udarás na Gaeltachta.

He told the Sunday Tribune: "While I was there I was struck by how suitable it was for a pilot project on the Irish language. Clare Island has a population of 160 people. Its location off the west coast of Ireland is between the Mayo and Connemara Gaeltacht areas, yet it is an English-speaking island.

"I believe it could be an ideal location for a pilot project on learning Irish, where the target could be for Clare Island to become Irish-speaking in the near future. The suggestion met with huge approval and interest from the locals.

"The 20-year Strategy for the Irish Language aims to increase the number of daily speakers to 250,000 from 83,000. In order to achieve that, we have to think outside the box. New Irish speakers aren't just going to come from the top of the class, they will have to be brought up from the back of the class too."

Talking about the controversy over his lack of Irish, Feighan said: "A few weeks ago I was asked if my teachers were at fault as I cannot speak Irish. My teachers were excellent but I was more interested in dreaming about playing for Liverpool than learning Irish when I was at school.

"I have starting taking lessons and I see myself as one of those people who needs the confidence to get a grasp of the Irish language. A project like the one I am proposing for Clare Island could attract great interest in the learning of the language among the hundreds of thousands of people in my own situation. I look forward to working with all the various bodies involved in the area to try to attain this goal."