The Orange Order yesterday appeared to distance itself from a veteran member who warned Protestants against learning the Irish language at a loyalist protest in north Belfast.
Belfast County Grand Master George Chittick made the call claiming the Irish language was used by republicans for political purposes.
Yesterday, an Orange Order spokesman said they had “no formal policy or guidelines for members regarding the learning of the Irish language” and “any decision was a matter for individual conscience”.
“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,” added the spokesman.
“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.”
Irish language development officer in east Belfast Linda Ervine said she has spoken to people who were “angered and offended” by Mr Chittick’s remarks.
“He comes from a place of ignorance unfortunately, in that he just doesn’t know or have any real understanding of the Irish language, community or history,” she said.
“We have people from all walks of life and all parties to our classes including the DUP, UUP, Alliance, PUP, not to mention the SDLP and Sinn Fein.”
Mrs Ervine, wife of former PUP leader Brian Ervine, said eight Irish language classes are now operating in east Belfast.
Shec extended an invitation to Belfast County Grand Master George Chittick to attend the Irish language centre operating in East Belfast Mission.
“I would love him to come over to see what we do,” said Mrs Ervine. “The sad thing is that people from all unionist areas go into the Irish community in west Belfast and further afield and are treated with grace and given a warm welcome.
“And if George Chittick went there, he would be treated in the same way.”
Mrs Ervine added that “instead of putting people off learning the Irish language it has had the opposite effect with people saying they want to join the classes because of what George Chittick said”.
She added: “And other people in the Orange Order have also expressed an interest in the classes because of George.”