A Co Armagh man who vandalised Narrow Water memorial near Warrenpoint has been handed a six month prison sentence.
Robert James McKeegan, from Beech Drive in Bleary, appeared before Newry Magistrates’ Court this morning (Wednesday) charged with criminal damage.
A previous court sitting heard how on October 4, last year, CCTV footage showed the 44-year-old getting out of his lorry while using his mobile phone and kicking out at the memorial.
Police tracked the lorry to the defendant who, when arrested, made no comment during interview.
The damage was estimated at around £200, which McKeegan’s defence barrister saying his client was more than willing to pay, given his remorse for his actions.
District Judge Peter Magill, who handed McKeegan the six month prison sentence, with a further six months to be spent on licence, said “anyone who desecrates a memorial to the dead has stepped outside the bounds of any civilised society”.
The memorial is dedicated to the 18 soldiers killed in an IRA double bomb attack in 1979 – the largest single loss of life suffered by the security forces during the Troubles.
It is believed to have been the forth attack on the memorial that year.
Speaking on the matter DUP MLA Carla Lockhart branded it “a disgraceful act of hate and criminal damage”.
She said: “I welcome the fact that this individual is going to prison. This is where he deserves to be. I hope he uses the time to reflect on his cruel and heartless act of vandalism.
“Eighteen families lost loved ones at the barbaric hands of the IRA in Narrow Water. Six other soldiers sustained life changing injuries. One civilian lost his life and another was wounded in subsequent crossfire.
“An act of vandalism like this, undoubtedly re-opens deep wounds. Forty years on and their loved ones’ memorial is still being defaced on a regular basis.
“Those who glorify acts of terrorism must recognise that they’re sending out a mixed signal about the past. Praising bombers whilst denigrating soldiers undoubtedly creates an environment where horrible acts, such as the desecration of a memorial, are deemed acceptable in some people’s eyes.
“Unfortunately the soldiers’ families remain without justice. Whilst Sinn Fein talks about the legacy of the State, it’s time for republicans to step forward and help deliver some justice for the Narrow Water families.
“As a society, we don’t want this to be repeated. This custodial sentence should act as a deterrent to others to think twice before taking actions that have severe consequences.
“The PSNI and the PPS deserve praise for tackling this. I also commend the Judge who handed down this custodial sentence. It is good to see justice done.”