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David Ervine's sister-in-law Linda hits out at DUP diehards over attitude to Irish language

By Ivan Little

The late PUP leader David Ervine's sister-in-law, who runs Irish classes in the heart of unionist east Belfast, has claimed that elements within the DUP have an "anti-Irish language attitude".

Linda Ervine, whose Turas programme on the Newtownards Road currently has more than 150 people studying the language in 13 classes, was speaking after the DUP's Communities Minister Paul Givan did a U-turn on his pre-Christmas decision to axe £50,000 funding from the Liofa bursary scheme.

Mrs Ervine said a large number of Protestants had availed of the Liofa bursaries to study Irish in the Gaeltacht in Co Donegal over the years.

She welcomed Mr Givan's reversal, but said she was shocked that it had been made in the first place.

She added: "It's no secret that some people in the DUP haven't been very gracious with the language. I know that from talking to them and from the 'curry my yoghurt' incident.

"And a few things have happened since the Ministers up at Stormont changed."

As one example, Mrs Ervine cited the renaming by the DUP's Michelle McIlveen of a fisheries protection vessel from Banrion Uladh to its English translation Queen of Ulster.

She also said that Irish had been removed from a number of websites.

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But Mrs Ervine said she was happy to hear Mr Givan talking yesterday about the Irish language belonging to everyone here, not just nationalists and republicans.

"I was also glad that Gregory Campbell said on the radio that the language didn't belong to Sinn Fein, because that is the reality. Sometimes it has seemed that members of the DUP have forgotten that."

Mrs Ervine described Liofa as "a fantastic opportunity for people who are on low incomes to go to Donegal and study the language for a week. We encouraged our people to sign up for it if they fitted the criteria for the bursaries," she said.

Mrs Ervine said she was worried and disappointed when she first became aware that Mr Givan had cut the funding.

"I wasn't aware of the decision until after Christmas and I was really shocked, especially as it was such a small amount of money and to the best of my knowledge no other groups were affected. I know Mr Givan said the reason was the cutbacks, but I'm not sure that really washed with me.

"It was a wrong decision. We get despondent when things like this happen and we see the language being used as a political football, because that is not what the language is about or what the majority of speakers in the Irish language community are about"

Mr Givan tweeted yesterday morning that he had 'identified the necessary funding' to advance the bursary scheme and said his original decision to withdraw it was not political.

Linda Ervine at an Irish language class at the East Belfast Mission on the Newtownards Road
Linda Ervine at an Irish language class at the East Belfast Mission on the Newtownards Road

But his change of heart didn't appease his opponents and Sinn Fein said they were still calling for a new election.

Irish language activists went ahead with a protest over Mr Givan's original cuts outside his office in Belfast city centre yesterday and a number of Sinn Fein politicians said that his climbdown was too little, too late.

Irish language group Pobal welcomed the restoration of the Liofa funding, but said there should be no return to government without an Irish language act.

Party leader Martin McGuinness said the Liofa decision by the DUP had been a factor in his decision to quit as deputy First Minister.

Meanwhile, members of the Linen Hall Library in the centre of Belfast have taken to social media to protest at the daubing of pro-Irish language graffiti on a wall of their historic building.

One social media poster said "The library has always supported the Irish language, most recently in 30 years of cross-community classes.

"It doesn't help our cause to have to pay hundreds of pounds to get the graffiti removed."

One source denied that the graffiti had anything to do with an Irish language group.

"It's the work of a loner," he said.

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