An Gaeilge in An Dun!

Down UUP members walk out of Linda Ervine DDC talk, claim ‘views of unionists’ ignored



Three Down District Council Ulster Unionist members defiantly left the council chamber on Monday before a presentation by Linda Ervine on how the Irish language is embedded into the Protestant Culture.


Mrs Ervine has staged numerous presentations relating to the Irish language and social integration, despite facing opposition from some,namely senior Orange Order member George Chittick, who publicly claimed that the Irish language should not be adopted by Protestants as it has become ‘politicised’. Mr Chittick, facing a strong crowd at Twaddell Avenue, told those gathered that the spread of the Irish language was a part of a ‘Republican agenda’.


“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.”


At the time this comment was made, Tom Elliott (UUP) said that: “George Chittick is entitled to express his views in his own way. If people wish to learn the Irish language, they are fully entitled to do so”.


However, it seems something has changed in the Ulster Unionist camp. We are post-Haass and we are approaching election season. However, it remains unclear why the party are so opposed to even talking about the Irish Language.


Mr Walter Lyons, who was in attendance at the council meeting, released a statement:


“We were delighted to meet with Linda Ervine before tonight’s Council meeting and agreed to meet again at the East Belfast Mission to learn of the work that she does, to hear of positive aspects of the Irish Language and to lend our support to her group.


“For years the Irish Language has been used as a political weapon by some in Down District Council when instead it could be used as a means of reconciliation. Unfortunately the views of Unionists and others have been ignored in the implementation of Irish Language policy in Down Council.”


Letter heads and the Down bi-lingual policy


In the past there has been a number of instances when unionist parties have come to blows over the Irish language within Down Council and it is not the first time that this complaint has been raised. On Monday 28th of October 2013 unionist Councillors – as reported by the Down News – ‘expressed their serious apprehensions about being asked to use Council headed letter-headed paper with a bilingual logos including the Irish language’. It was also on this day that Down UUP Councillor Robert Burgess called the letter head showing the Irish language ‘extremely offensive’ for unionists.


The issue came to light after the Down District ‘bi-lingual policy’ which the council describe as a policy that ‘applies to all Council business and functions and is intended to deliver linguistic equality for all who avail of and / or provide Council services’.


UKIP member Alan Lewis stated, in relation to the bi-lingual policy, that it showcased inequality within the council: “The policy also states Council will support Irish language and cultural activities by facilitating events within the council buildings and venues”. Will unionist events be looked upon with such favour? Will equal facilitation be made available to Ulster Scots groups? Will funding be made available to unionist groups on equal bases?




Alexander Redpath, UUP candidate for Downshire West who was recently co-opted onto Lisburn City Council replacing Councillor Ronnie Crawford, stated that he felt the Irish language proposals were damaging the unionist culture – making references to Sinn Fein asserting ‘dominance’ and the use of the Irish language on a number of road signs.


“Sadly the reality in Down District Council is that the Irish language has been politicised to the extent that many unionists see it as a way of Sinn Fein asserting their dominance”


 ”Under the Belfast agreement your identity is protected and therefore the Irish language receives attention and support from government. However certain measures connected with the Irish language e.g. Irish language on road signs. Have been advanced by SF in the face of consistent resistance from unionists. Road signs are about communication not identity and we see this sort of measure as Irish language being used as a political weapon. In reality SF are just trying to make south down more like the RoI. I don’t think that’s a legitimate use of the Irish language and I think it damages the position of the Irish language.”


Off The Record will update this story as it develops. We have reached out to a number of sources for comment.


Jason Murdock