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DUP MEP Diane Dodds met Irish language students during visit to east Belfast charity

DUP MEP Diane Dodds (centre) with former Labour MSP Alasdair Morrison; Linda Ervine; Ciarán Ó Coigligh, and Norman Uprichard at the East Belfast Mission. Picture from Diane Dodds/Twitter

DUP MEP Diane Dodds met students at an Irish language students during a visit to a class in the heart of loyalist east Belfast.

Mrs Dodds visited the East Belfast Mission, which runs Irish language classes on the Newtownards Road through its Turas project, at the end of March.

Linda Ervine, who is the Irish language officer at the Mission, which is based in the Skainos Centre, said the senior DUP figure turned up after accepting an invitation to visit after the pair met during the recent election campaign.

Mrs Ervine, who promotes Irish among the Protestant community as a language for all, said: "When she came we had an Irish language class going on. She met with the class and had a few words with them.

"She just told them about her work in Brussels and how positive she was about other languages. She didn't specifically mention the Irish language."

In a tweet put out later that day, Mrs Dodds, who is married to DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, said: "Good discussion with @ErvineLinda, @ctaoc & friends this morning on hopes & concerns on future of Gaelic + British heritage of the language."

Irish language enthusiasts welcomed the move with one responding in a tweet that her attendance was "a small but significant step".

During the visit Mrs Dodds met ex-Labour Scottish assembly member Alasdair Morrison, and former Dublin-based Irish lecturer Ciarán Ó Coigligh, who were at the centre following a discussion event on an Irish language act the previous evening.

Mrs Ervine, a sister-in-law of former loyalist leader, David Ervine, who died in 2007, said: "We brought in three positive speakers on the previous evening to talk about what an Irish language act could look like, as there has been a lot of half information out there."

She said former DUP MLA Sammy Douglas, who had been a local assembly member, had previously "engaged with us on different occasions" but it is the first time a senior party figure has accepted an invitation to attend.

Welcoming Arlene Foster's remarks on reaching out to Irish speakers, the East Belfast Mission said they had "witnessed the healing power of the language" in community relations work.

"We believe that increasing knowledge of the language and interaction with Irish speakers will reduce the tendency to stereotype Irish speakers or associate them with particular political perspectives."

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