A senior member of the Orange Order who claimed the Irish language was used by republicans for political purposes has been criticised.
An Irish language development officer in east Belfast said many people were upset by the remarks of George Chittick, the order’s Belfast County Grand Master.
Linda Ervine said: “I know a lot of people who have been angered and offended.”
Mr Chittick told a loyalist rally in north Belfast yesterday: “A word of warning to Protestants who go to learn Irish... it’s part of the republican agenda.”
He later said his remarks were aimed at those seeking funding for Irish language projects rather than financial aid for projects which would generate jobs.
Ms Ervine, a development officer at an Irish language centre in east Belfast and who is married to Brian Ervine, a former leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, said she was surprised by what Mr Chittick said. .
She told presenter William Crawley on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence programme: “I had talks with the Orange Order last year and found them to be very interested in my work.
“I know a lot of people in east Belfast have been offended by this, I’ve had a lot of messages overnight from people who are quite angry at Mr Chittick’s remarks. I wish he would come and address them to us, I’d love him to come and visit our centre because I think it would be a real wake-up call for him.
“You come into our classroom and you have members of the DUP, members of Alliance, members of the UUP, members of the PUP all learning Irish.”
Sinn Fein councillor Niall O Donnghaile said Protestants had nothing to fear by learning Irish.
Mr O Donnghaile, a former Lord Mayor of Belfast, said: “Here in my own constituency in inner east Belfast, people like Linda Ervine are taking a very courageous stand in promoting the Irish language and highlighting that history to Protestant people.”
Today an Orange Order spokesman said they had no formal policy or guidelines for members regarding the learning of the Irish language. Any decision was a matter for individual conscience.
The spokesman added: “What is not widely known is that some Orangemen throughout the history of the Institution have actually been fluent, or familiar, in the use of the Irish language.
“Among them were a number of our Protestant forefathers who signed the Ulster Covenant over a century ago and Rev Dr Rutledge Kane, a former County Grand Master of Belfast.
“While we are opposed to the Irish language being used as a political weapon, as opposition to our parades is used by republicans in the same way, the Orange Institution remains committed to a truly shared future.
“However, this must include respect and tolerance for our British culture and heritage, as well as minority viewpoints.”