Belfast Telegraph

Sports stars targeted in Irish push

Northern Ireland's police service and a string of sporting bodies are being asked to back a plan to create an extra 1,000 Irish speakers by 2015.

Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin will ask high-profile figures, plus members of the public, to agree to try to become "liofa", Irish for fluent, by the target date.

The Sinn Fein minister said she hoped "Liofa 2015" would attract people from across the political divide and said the Gaelic language should be seen as belonging to all communities.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie is among the public figures set to attend the Stormont launch of the project on Monday.

While the language has sparked rows between unionists and nationalists at the Assembly, the minister said Liofa 2015 was a bid to get away from political divisions.

"At times the Irish language came up for debate in the Assembly and, because of the conduct and the remarks that were made, members of the Irish language community felt very hurt and offended," she said.

"They felt that there must be some way that we can deal with, and promote and advance, the Irish language without it becoming a divisive political issue."

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said the scheme was Sinn Fein pushing a "political agenda", which he said had "politicised Irish as a cultural weapon of war".

But Ms Ni Chuilin said: "We want learning Irish to be a natural and normal thing that people do without any comment. I was conscious of the fact that the language seems to be viewed by some as the preserve of the nationalist and republican community, and that's not the case. The Irish language belongs to everyone."

The Department of Culture's website will offer details of where classes are available. Support may also be on offer to learners in need of advice but the minister said she did not foresee any major expenditure.

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