Orangeman George Chittick's Protestant Irish language remarks 'surprising'
An Irish language development officer in east Belfast says many people there are upset by an Orange Order claim that Irish is being used for political purposes by republicans.
The claim was made on Saturday by George Chittick, the order's Belfast County Grand Master.
Linda Ervine said: "I know a lot of people in east Belfast have been offended by this."
Mr Chittick's remarks were also criticised by Sinn Féin and the SDLP.
Speaking at a loyalist protest in north Belfast, Mr Chittick said: "A word of warning to Protestants who go to learn Irish... it's part of the republican agenda."
He later said his remarks on Saturday were aimed at those seeking funding for Irish language projects.
Ms Ervine, who is development officer at a recently opened Irish language centre in east Belfast and is married to the former PUP leader Brian Ervine, said she was "very surprised" by Mr Chittick's comments.
She told BBC Northern Ireland's Sunday Sequence programme: "I had talks with the Orange Order last year and found them to be very interested in my work.
"I know a lot of people in east Belfast have been offended by this, 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 centre because I think it would be a real wake-up call for him.
"You come into our classroom and you have members of the DUP, members of Alliance, members of the UUP, members of the PUP all learning Irish."
Sinn Féin councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile said Protestants had nothing to fear by learning Irish.
Mr Ó Donnghaile said: "Here in my own constituency in inner east Belfast, people like Linda Ervine are taking a very courageous stand in promoting the Irish language and highlighting that history to Protestant people."
The SDLP's Irish language spokesman Dominic Bradley said he was saddened by Mr Chittick's remarks and called for him to apologise.
"I have worked with people from the Protestant community in the promotion of the language and have found them to be most knowledgeable, dedicated and genuine in their efforts," he said.
An Orange Order spokesman said on Sunday: "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.
"While we are opposed to the Irish language being used as a political weapon, as opposition to our parades is used by republicans in the same way, the Orange institution remains committed to a truly shared future.
"However, this must include respect and tolerance for our British culture and heritage, as well as minority viewpoints."
Mr Chittick had made his remarks at the weekly loyalist demonstration against the rerouting of an Orange Order parade in north Belfast.
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.