Orangeman says Protestants should not learn Irish language

George Chittick: 'Irish language has become political'

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A senior Orangeman has warned Protestants against learning the Irish language.

Belfast County Grand Master George Chittick made the call at a loyalist protest in north Belfast.

Mr Chittick told a crowd of about 500 people on the Woodvale Road: "A word of warning to Protestants who go to learn Irish ... it's part of the republican agenda.

"What do we think of the republican agenda? No."

Mr Chittick was addressing the weekly loyalist demonstration against the re-routing of an Orange Order parade in north Belfast. There has been a protest camp on nearby Twaddell Avenue for more than 200 days.

He later told the BBC his remarks were aimed at Protestants seeking funding for Irish language projects, and said he believed they should instead apply for financial grants for employment projects.

He said the Irish language had not been "political" in the past, but this had been changed in recent times by republicans.

Mr Chittick claimed republicans wanted to establish the Irish language in Northern Ireland on the same legal footing as English so that it would become compulsory in order to get a job.

He denied his remarks would be deemed offensive by Irish language speakers.

It comes weeks after a new Irish language centre opened in east Belfast to cope with an increasing number of learners.

A major security operation took place in Belfast on Saturday afternoon as a number of parades and counter-protests were organised across the city. They passed off without incident.

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