Irish use 'perfectly legitimate'
First Minister Peter Robinson has distanced himself from a senior Orangeman's controversial warning to Protestants who learn Irish.
The Orange Order's Belfast County Grand Master George Chittick effectively urged Protestants considering study of the language to think again, claiming it was part of a republican agenda.
In the wake of Mr Chittick's contentious remarks, which he made at a loyalist protest in north Belfast over the weekend, the Order made clear the institution had no formal policy for members about learning the language, insisting it was a matter for individuals to make their own decisions.
While the Order said it was against anyone using Irish as a "political weapon" it highlighted that some of its members down through the generations were either fluent or familiar with the language.
DUP leader Mr Robinson said he agreed with the Order's official stance and said he believed people had the right to learn whatever language they wanted.
"That's up to every individual what they want themselves to do," he said.
"In a free country people are perfectly entitled to learn whatever language they wish and to practise whatever language they wish and no one should be attempting to indicate that they are right or wrong in doing it - it's a perfectly legitimate right for people to uphold and I was glad to see the Orange Order making its position officially clear."
Mr Chittick was criticised by advocates of the Irish language following his remarks.
At the protest on Saturday he said: "A word of warning to Protestants who go to learn Irish - it's part of the republican agenda."
He said his comments were aimed at those seeking funding for Irish language projects rather than pursuing financial aid for projects that would generate jobs.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said any suggestion that his party Sinn Fein used Irish as a political weapon was "nonsense".
He also paid tribute to those from a Protestant faith who were learning the language.
"The Irish language doesn't belong to any political party, doesn't belong to any section of the community, the Irish language belongs to everybody and I wish people would stop trying to politicise it themselves," he said.
Mr McGuinness blamed a "small minority of extremists" within unionism for pushing an anti-Irish agenda.
He added: "They need to get over it and recognise that as we go forward through the agreements we have forged that we all have a duty and responsibility to respect each other."