A senior member of the Orange Order has claimed the Irish language is being used for political purposes by Republicans.

But Belfast County Grand Master of the Orange Order George Chittick has been criticized by a remarkable source – a woman who heads an Irish language center in the heart of Loyalist east Belfast.

Linda Ervine is development officer at the recently-opened Irish language center in Protestant East Belfast.

She is a sister-in-law of the late David Ervine, a former Loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force terrorist who changed from violence to politics in the Maze Prison and became a founder of the Progressive Unionist Party.

He was credited with being a major instrumental figure in the Loyalist ceasefire of 1994 and was a supporter of the Good Friday Agreement.

Ms. Ervine, whose courses in Irish include classes for members of the Democratic Unionist Party, the PUP, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Alliance party, said a lot of people in East Belfast were offended by Chittick’s remarks.

She told the BBC, “I had talks with the Orange Order last year and found them to be very interested in my work.

“I’ve had a lot of messages overnight from people who are quite angry at Mr. Chittick’s remarks. I wish he would come and address them to us. I’d love him to come and visit our center because I think it would be a real wake-up call for him.”

Chittick said at a Loyalist protest march in north Belfast that he was warning Protestants who learn Irish that it is a part of the Republican agenda.

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

An Orange Order spokesman said, “The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland has no formal policy or guidelines for members regarding the learning of the Irish language. Rather, such a decision is instead a matter of individual conscience.”