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Editorial: Irish language belongs to all

AS an illustration of the absurdity of erecting a 'Keep Irish Out' sign at a primary school in the Co Down village of Clough, it would be hard to better the response of Linda Ervine.

The prominent Irish language activist, who comes from a Protestant background in east Belfast, tweeted: "I'm not sure how you could keep Irish out of Clough PS as Clough is an anglicisation of the Irish word Cloch which means stone. The Irish language is all around us. #SharedLanguage"

Sadly the irony is likely to be lost on those behind the large banner stating ‘Keep Irish out of our kids' classrooms' that appeared in the grounds of the state-controlled Cumran PS overnight on Sunday.

Police are treating the sinister sign – which also stated that a named Catholic school was not welcome at Cumran – as a sectarian hate crime and there is no doubt it was a blatant attempt to intimidate staff and pupils.

It followed a visit from staff from the nearby secondary ahead of an open day.

To target school children in any way is reprehensible and the sign was strongly condemned by nationalist politicians.

The school itself, which finds itself in an unenviable position, confirmed it supports an ethos where young people of all backgrounds and abilities are educated in a nurturing environment in which respect for others is paramount.

Depressingly, however, while advocating a different way to express concerns, one unionist representative suggested that republicans were somehow to blame for "weaponising" the language.

The perfectly reasonable expectation that Irish and Ulster-Scots are afforded similar recognition and protection as languages in Scotland and Wales has unfortunately become a source of political division, now finding expression in sectarian intimidation such as the banner in Clough or vandalism of Irish language road signs.

The reality of course is that the Irish language belongs to everyone and should threaten no-one's sense of identity.

Indeed, Ms Ervine, who is married to a former leader of the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party, has spoken eloquently about the rich history of Ulster Protestants speaking Irish and the importance of those communities connecting with such traditions.

Those who attempt to denigrate and sow mistrust about the language would be much better served enrolling in a class themselves and celebrating our shared heritage rather than targeting children with their poison.

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