First Minister Peter Robinson hits out at 'don't learn Irish' call from senior Orangeman
First Minister Peter Robinson has distanced himself from a senior Orangeman's controversial warning to Protestants not to learn Irish.
The Orange Order's Belfast County Grand Master George Chittick urged Protestants considering study of the language to think again, claiming it was part of a republican agenda.
The hardliner's comments have been criticised on both sides of the political divide.
In the wake of Mr Chittick's contentious remarks at a loyalist protest in north Belfast at the weekend, the Order made clear the institution had no formal policy for members about learning the language. It insisted 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."
Mr Chittick said his comments were aimed at those seeking funding for Irish language projects rather than pursuing financial aid for projects that generate jobs.