LINDA ERVINE:‘The Irish language belongs to everybody who wants to learn it and has a rich Protestant heritage’

Leading Protestant proponent of Gaelic objects to Student Orange Society at QUB’s description of Irish residency scheme as amounting to ‘cultural apartheid’

Linda Ervine was awarded an MBE for services to the Irish language in the Queen's honours list last year. She runs the Turas Irish language programme on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast where 65 percent of attendees taking Irish classes are from a Protestant background
Linda Ervine was awarded an MBE for services to the Irish language in the Queen's honours list last year. She runs the Turas Irish language programme on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast where 65 percent of attendees taking Irish classes are from a Protestant background

Protestant and unionist Irish language advocate Linda Ervine, whose husband is former PUP leader Brian Ervine and who runs the Turas Irish language project on the Newtownards Road in East Belfast has responded to a statement made by the Student Orange Society at Queen’s University Belfast attacking a proposal to create an Irish language residency scheme.

The Student Orange Society and its student and alumni lodge had issued a statement on Wednesday (February 16) arguing that such a scheme “would serve only the principle of segregation, and create de facto’no-go’ areas for Protestant and unionist students in what is and should be a shared space.”

They added: “The university and halls experience is, for many young people in Northern Ireland, the first opportunity to learn about and appreciate the varying cultures on this island as well as those from around the world.

“Much of the progress which has been made in our province over the last two decades has stemmed from an acceptance that we must be able to peacefully co-exist and the implementation of effective ‘cultural apartheid’ is antithetical to this cause.”

The Worshipful Master of Queen’s LOL 1845, Joshua Patterson, added: “Our universities should be a shared space and have an opportunity to drive progress by promoting understanding between students of different political and religious backgrounds in our country. This policy flies in the face of that and encourages division, further isolating those from a unionist background in university life and wider society.”

Linda Ervine, one of Northern Ireland’s foremost unionist and Protestant Gaeilgeoirs said: “I think this is actually very sad.

“I am a Protestant doing an Irish degree at Queen’s, as is my friend, as are many others whom I know personally.

“This idea of an Irish residency scheme being a form of ‘cultural apartheid’ is just crazy.

“It makes sense to have Irish language students in halls together so that they can communicate with each other in Irish and thereby improve their proficiency in the language.

“This is good practice and something that we also see implemented in universities in the Republic and in Scotland and in Wales, who would struggle to understand why anyone would take issue with this practice here.

“Being housed in halls together is an amazing opportunity for students to develop fluency.”

Mrs Ervine, who was awarded an MBE for services to the Irish language on the Queen’s Honours List last year, added: “Not only do we have lots of Protestants and people from other backgrounds, besides nationalists, studying Irish at Queen’s, we also have lots of Protestants studying Irish at the University of Ulster who are affiliated with the Turas scheme - Protestants doing both degrees and diplomas in Irish.”

She continued: “At Turas 65 percent of people taking classes in Irish are from Protestant backgrounds.

“I have spent the past ten years of my life trying to make people understand that the Irish language is not only of interest to those from a nationalist, Catholic or republican background, but also something that a significant demographic of unionists and Protestants are interested in too, because there is a rich history of Ulster Protestants speaking Gaelic and it is a beautiful language that anyone of any background can choose to learn.

“I think it’s ironic that the Student Orange Society, which promotes Protestantism and would not admit Catholic membership, would make a statement like this.

“The Irish language belongs to everybody and anyone who is interested is free to learn it and appreciate that its heritage belongs to unionists and nationalists alike.

“The Student Orange Society have an incorrect perception that Irish is only of interest to those of a nationalist and Catholic background, and that is simply not the case.

“I applaud the Irish language residency scheme and I think it’s great and I would encourage other Protestants to embrace Gaelic as part of their cultural heritage.”

A spokesperson for the university’s Irish language An Cumman Gaelach said: “We will continue to work with the university to ensure the scheme is in place by September 2022, for a new generation of Irish speaking students,”

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