A senior Orangeman who warned Protestants against learning Irish has been challenged to visit language classes in the loyalist heartland of east Belfast.
East Belfast Mission’s Irish language development officer Linda Ervine said unionists and nationalists were “upset and offended” after Belfast county grand master George Chittick warned loyalist protesters in north Belfast not to learn the Irish language.
Addressing a 500-strong crowd on the Woodvale Road on Saturday, Mr Chittick said: “A word of warning to Protestants who go to learn Irish... it's part of the republican agenda. What do we think of the republican agenda? No.”
He also claimed republicans want Irish to have the same legal standing as English in Northern Ireland so it would become compulsory in order to get a job, and denied his remarks might be offensive to Irish language speakers.
Last night Ms Ervine, who facilitates Irish language classes for the growing number of Protestants, unionists and loyalists wanting to learn, said she would like Mr Chittick to visit the Turas (journey) project at the Skainos Centre on the Newtownards Road.
“I was really surprised by what he said, especially as Mr Chittick pointed out the Orange Order’s own links to the language,” the wife of former PUP leader Brian Ervine added.
“I don’t know if his comments were a warning, or was he trying to intimidate people? I would hope not. Lots of people involved with us across unionist and nationalist communities are upset and offended by what he said.
“I’ve spoken to a few people in the Orange Order overnight who have expressed an interest in learning, as they have taken exception to what was said.”
A statement from the Orange Order said throughout the history of the institution Orangemen “have been fluent, or familiar” in the use of the Irish language, adding that it has “no formal policy or guidelines” for members regarding learning it and that “such a decision is a matter of individual conscience”.
A DUP spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph:. “We recognise that many people cherish the Irish language as part of their culture and identity and they have every right to do so.”
UUP MLA Tom Elliott (below) said: “George Chittick is entitled to express his views in his own way. If people wish to learn the Irish language, they are fully entitled to do so.
“The fact is the Irish language has been hijacked by the republican movement for their own selfish political ends, with it being used as a political weapon in their cultural warfare.”
Sinn Fein councillor Niall O Donnghaile described Mr Chittick’s comments as “dangerous utterances” and “inherently sectarian”.
10 GAEILGE (IRISH) WORDS AND PHRASES
Cad é mar atá tú?
How are you?
Tá mé go maith
Maith go leor
Le do thoil
Go raibh maith agat
Lámh dhearg abú
Victory to the Red Hand, the war cry of the O’Neills. The Red Hand Commando use it on a lot of loyalist murals.
Fág an bealach — Faugh a ballagh
Irish meaning is ‘clear the way'. The motto of the Royal Irish Regiment.
Compiled by Linda Ervine, Irish development officer at the East Belfast Mission.