Northern Ireland news

Orange Order opposed to legislation that 'weaponises' Irish language

Mervyn Gibson said the Orange Order would oppose legislation which could see the Irish language used as a 'political weapon'. Picture by Arthur Allison

THE Orange Order's grand secretary has claimed a standalone Irish language act could be used as a "political weapon".

Mervyn Gibson, who met Secretary of State Julian Smith at Hillsborough Castle at the weekend, said more than 120 delegates from the loyal order met in December and voted unanimously to oppose standalone Irish language legislation.

An Irish language act has the support of a majority of Stormont's parties but is opposed by unionists.

It is seen as one of the major sticking points in the current negotiations aimed at restoring devolution.

The DUP is thought to have walked away from a potential deal in February 2018 after its own representatives and the Orange Order raised concerns about the Irish language element of the proposed agreement.

Mr Gibson said the Orange Order would oppose legislation which could see the Irish language used as a "political weapon" or elevated above others.

"We will see what comes out of the talks and we will consider it but if it is a standalone Irish language act or legislation that can be used to further weaponise the language – which is sad – we will be opposed to it," he said.

He said language had been "used in the past sadly as a blunt instrument to push Irish identity".

"We actually think an act would do a disservice to the language itself," the Orange Order grand secretary said.

He said there was a concern an Irish language act could be judicially reviewed and altered "and gradually grow and grow until across the province people are forced into a situation where they have to endure Irish – and that should not be the case".

Mr Gibson said he believed the Orange Order was not on a "different page" from the unionist parties and that the order was not intent in "scuppering" a deal.

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