A SENIOR Orangeman who called for Protestants not to learn Irish has been defended by another leading member of the order.
Belfast County Grand master George Chittick has been criticised after telling loyalist protesters at a rally in north Belfast on Saturday: "a word of warning to Protestants who go to learn Irish... it's part of the republican agenda." mr Chittick later accused republicans of making Irish "political" and claimed funding for the language should "go into the things such as getting people jobs".
The Orange Order's director of services, David Hume, defended mr Chittick's views.
"I think George is articulating a belief, certainly within a section of the Protestant community, that there is this cultural onslaught, if you like, and that Irish language has become part of that," he said.
"I would also recognise, as I think most reasonable people would, that there are a lot of very dedicated Irish language enthusiasts there learning the language.
"But we also have to recognise that there has been a republican agenda and what we would see as Long Kesh [prison] Irish."
Deputy First minister Martin McGuinness rubbished Mr Chittick's comments yesterday.
He claimed they were an attempt to "bully" people from the Protestant community "not to be involved, not just in the Irish language, but anything to do with Irishness".
"We don't claim the Irish language - the Irish language is for everybody," he said. Mr McGuinness defended his party's right to "promote Irishness and the Irish language" but added "of course it has to be done in a sensible way".
"I'm full of admiration for people like [Protestant Irish language teacher] Linda Ervine in east Belfast and all the others who supported her in east Belfast whenever she stands up and says this language doesn't belong to Sinn Fein," he said.
"Whenever I here her say that I say 'Hooray to Linda' - it doesn't belong to Sinn Fein, it belongs to all of us. And of course the Presbyterian tradition is a very proud tradition within Irish republicanism and their involvement with the Irish language through Douglas Hyde and many others is legendary."
* BACKING: The Orange Order's director of services David Hume (left) has defended calls from Belfast County Grand Master George Chittick (right) for Protestant not to learn Irish