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Orange Order opposed to 'further weaponisation of Irish language,' says Mervyn Gibson

People could be 'forced to endure Irish,' says Orange chief

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Senior Orangeman Mervyn Gibson.

Senior Orangeman Mervyn Gibson.

Senior Orangeman Mervyn Gibson.

The "further weaponisation" of the Irish language through a standalone act or other legislation would be unacceptable to the Orange Order, Grand Secretary Mervyn Gibson has said.

He said if legislation was proposed which could see the language used as a "political weapon" or elevated above others they would be against it.

That would include provisions such as bi-lingual signage around Northern Ireland and if it was "on-demand" such as someone having the right to be served by an Irish speaker in a post office.

"That's just a job creation scheme," Mr Gibson said.

"We have seen in the past where republicans have said they want something and they change the goal posts and we don't want that to happen."

He said an act could be judicially reviewed to the point in which people would be "forced to endure Irish".

Mr Gibson said he had not seen any potential documents relating to a deal.

"We will see what comes out of the talks and we will consider it but if it is a standalone Irish language act or legislation that can be used to further weaponise the language - which is sad - we will be opposed to it."

The political parties have until Monday to resolve their differences and restore power sharing with the Secretary of State Julian Smith saying an election could be called.

Mr Smith has met with a range of groups including Irish language activists.

The Orange Order met the Secretary of State over the weekend to give their views on the issues around the talks.

An Irish language act remains one of the main sticking points to getting a deal.

A deal proposed in 2018 involved a form of overarching cultural legislation that applied to the Irish language, Ulster Scots and identity issues. It is understood the current proposals are along the same lines.

Sinn Fein has said "clearly" an Irish language act would be part of a deal.

Mr Gibson said they told Mr Smith they believed a standalone act would not be best for the people of Northern Ireland as it would "elevate one culture above the other".

"It has been clearly used in the past sadly as a blunt instrument to push Irish identity. This has been stated by Sinn Fein that it is not about the language, it is about the identity.

"We actually think an act would do a disservice to the language itself."

He said he had nothing against the Irish language, but rather how it had been used.

"I would encourage people to speak it and learn it. We have no issue.. it is how it is being used," he continued.

He said they would examine the detail of any proposed legislation but it was the idea of a "standalone" element which has caused concern.

"Why does one particular language need elevated above the rest?"

He said there was a concern an Irish language act could be judicially reviewed and altered "and gradually grow and grow until across the province people are forced into a situation where they have to endure Irish.

"And that should not be the case".

He said they were not intent in "scuppering" an agreement but rather re-stating their long held views.

He said at the December meeting of his organisation - with over 120 delegates - they voted unanimously to oppose a standalone Irish language act

He said he didn't think the Orange Order was on a "different page" to the unionist parties.

"I would take the view parties go back into Stormont and discuss this but sadly one party, Sinn Fein, made it a red line and refused to discuss it in the Assembly."

He said that while his organisation numbered around 40,000 members and the Orange family extended to the hundreds of thousands they held no more sway that any other group.

"We have skin in the game, we want our voice heard. It does not mean a political party would do what we say."

Belfast Telegraph