The Protestant Irish language activist at the centre of a row at Down District Council has slammed those who use the Irish language “to offend people”.
East Belfast woman Linda Ervine, wife of former PUP leader Brian Ervine, was speaking after three Ulster Unionist councillors walked out ahead of a talk she was set to give to councillors on Monday night.
UUP councillor Walter Lyon told the News Letter he had met Linda before the talk, but that they walked out in protest at council policies on Irish.
Linda told the News Letter yesterday: “I believe if Irish is used in a disrespectful manner, it is offensive to people.
“I don’t like to see the Irish language used to offend.
“It is very, very unfortunate that we have people using it like that for their own agenda. Forcing anything on anyone of course is going to get people’s backs up.”
She was not specifically offering criticism of Down District Council, she said.
But Protestants don’t know that Irish was historically an integral part of unionism, Presbyterianism and Orangeism, she insisted.
“I have a picture of the Ulster Unionist Convention in 1892. There were 12,000 people and they had a huge sign up saying ‘God Save The Queen’ and also ‘Erin Go Bragh’ meaning ‘Ireland for ever’.”
She believes Irish can only be used “as a weapon” if those targeted accept it as such. However, she believes attitudes are changing.
“Last year at the west Belfast festival a republican stood up and urged the Irish language be used as a bulwark against British colonialism.
“But he was heckled by Irish language speakers. Someone shouted back ‘how dare you use my language as a tool for your conflict’.”
Down District Council said it has an obligation under the European Charter to promote minority languages and developed a Bilingual Policy to promote Irish which was approved by the council in June 2013.
The only flag the council flies is the council’s own flag, it added.