Northern Ireland

Orange Order reiterates Irish language act opposition

Parade in Lisnaskea in July 2019
Image caption Rev Mervyn Gibson has said his organisation is opposed to the Irish language being used as a "political weapon"

A senior Orangeman has reiterated his organisation's opposition to a standalone Irish language act.

Rev Mervyn Gibson, the Orange Order's grand secretary, was speaking after meeting Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith at the weekend.

The introduction of an act has been one of the main stumbling blocks to restoring devolution.

Mr Gibson said he was opposed to the language "being used as a political weapon".

He said his concern was that such an act would be used "to further the Irish identity in a way that puts it above the British identity".

'Widespread signage'

The comments from Mr Gibson come with less than a week for Northern Ireland's political parties to restore the Stormont stalemate.

Northern Ireland has been without devolved government since January 2017, when the DUP and Sinn Féin split in a bitter row.

Northern Ireland's parties must reach a deal by 13 January, or a fresh election could be called.

Image caption Rev Mervyn Gibson said he is opposed to an Irish language act being used as a weapon

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster on Tuesday, Mr Gibson said the issue had been raised at a meeting of the Orange Order in December.

He said while he believed the position of his organisation broadly reflected the view of the unionist parties, "it doesn't mean a political party would do what we ask or what we say".

Mr Gibson said he was concerned about the potential for a standalone Irish language act being "judicially reviewed and grown".

"[It could mean] widespread signage throughout Northern Ireland, bilingual signage throughout Northern Ireland," he said.

"It could mean if someone walks into the post office and speaks Irish they have a right to get somebody on the other side of the counter to speak Irish. That's just a job creation scheme."

He said the Orange Order had not seen any draft legislation for an Irish language act.

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