As an organisation with a 222-year history, the Orange Institution can fully appreciate and understand the attachment of others to their cultural values.
Tens of thousands of participants and hundreds of thousands of spectators at our recent Twelfth parades underline our ongoing relevance as a major stakeholder in the diverse cultural life of Northern Ireland.
We have no quarrel with those who enjoy the Irish language and wish to use it and we have never sought to deny anyone the right to enjoy these traditions.
Leading members of this institution have been champions for Irish including the Rev Dr Rutledge Kane – a former Belfast Grand Master who was instrumental in reviving Irish language use in Belfast in the early 20th century.
Today, some of our members in the border counties live in Gaeltacht areas and are fluent Irish speakers.
Language should threaten no one – however when language is used as a cultural weapon by political republicanism it clearly becomes a threat to our identity and community.
Stormont has invested £171m in the past five years to promote Irish language – yet through their actions and words, republicans have driven more people away from ever cultivating a genuine interest in Irish language than the any of these publicly funded incentives can ever hope to attract.
In that same period, only a fraction of this amount has been spent on the promotion of other cultural traditions, while the constant demonisation of our Orange practices and traditions has continued unabated.
Gerry Adams candid remarks and graphic language about his plans to break our community using the Trojan horse of equality, are an indicator of just how seriously we should take Sinn Fein’s assertion that it’s simply all about ‘rights’.
As early as 1982 – Sinn Fein activists were using phrases such as this:
“The process of decolonisation will have stopped half-way if, the day we succeed in driving the English from our shores, what is left behind is an Irish people possessed of the language, culture and values of the English.”
The current demand for an Irish language act is simply the next chapter in the republican campaign to rid Northern Ireland of any remaining semblance of British cultural identity.
Any legislation, no matter what it’s called or how its packaged, which underpins the Irish language in a legal framework will have massive implications for local government, the courts, the civil service, schools and everyday life in Northern Ireland.
Legislative intervention will be used as an employment driver for Irish speakers and will open-up the potential for endless legal challenges on a range of related issues.
According to the 2011 census, only 4,045 people claimed Irish as their main language. Sinn Fein may have recently dropped their demand for a 10 per cent quota for Irish speakers in the workplace – but given the complexity of translations required for judicial proceedings, policing and political administration how could such posts have been filled in a fair and equitable manner and without the introduction of positive discrimination against English speakers?
New Irish medium schools with less than 20 pupils have been opened in locations where much larger state schools have been closed.
In local council areas,
Irish signage which is not reflective of the local community has been erected without local consultation.
Irish is given visual priority on these signs and English is relegated to the bottom – a conscious decision, and clear indication of the cultural domination Sinn Fein plan to have over our community.
This ongoing militant cultural imperialism must be resisted by our politicians and the wider unionist community.
This institution will not support any political development which would reward republicans with a victory in their ongoing cultural war.
Let us ensure that what Sinn Fein/IRA failed to win with bomb and gun does not now become a casualty of their latest weapon – the Trojan horse of equality and rights.
• Edward Stevenson is Grand Master of the Orange Order