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‘Republican agenda’ remarks dismissed as nonsense by Sion minister
A SION Mills church minister has criticised comments made by a senior member of the Orange Order who claimed the Irish language was used by republicans for political purposes.
Belfast County Grand Master, George Chittick, told a loyalist rally in Belfast at the weekend, “A word of warning to Protestants who go to learn Irish… it’s part of the republican agenda.”
Unionist politicians moved quickly to distance themselves from the controversial remarks, with First Minister Peter Robinson stating that people had the right to learn whatever language they wanted.
Evangelical Christian Minister Rev Clive Johnston has been learning Irish in Sion Mills for the past four years. He described George Chittick’s remarks as “nonsense”.
“My mum was taught through the medium of Irish and we grew up with Irish nursery rhymes and prayer. Irish history and culture has always fascinated me and I find it a beautiful language.
“These Chittick’s comments are nonsense and I think he has done a tremendous dis-service to his own convictions of civil and religious liberty.
“I respect the right to those convictions and I believe in civil and religious liberty but you can’t have it without tolerance and mutual respect.
“They simply cannot co-exist with intolerance.
“In terms of our history, if we concentrate on what we have in common, the Irish language was protected by the Protestant community and even to this day there are still religious services conducted in Irish in Dublin.
“So it is a complete misnomer to say the language is for one side of the community,” Rev Johnson said.
In the wake of Mr Chittick’s contentious remarks, the Orange Order made clear the institution had no formal policy for members about learning the language, insisting it was a matter for individuals to make their own decisions.
While the order said it was against anyone using Irish as a “political weapon” it highlighted that some of its members down through the generations were either fluent or familiar with the language.
Rev Johnston said that in some cases the language was employed for political means. A “republican agenda” however does not exist.
“There are pockets all over this country that are so isolated from the wider community and are so out of touch. And that is part of the problem.
“With regards to the language, there maybe some people who want to use it for political means just the same as with Ulster Scots in terms of isolating communities.
“But the language itself has no political agenda,” he said.