Dissident elected to council told to grow up by judge after he's caught daubing slogans on Derry's walls
A dissident republican spokesman elected to a super-council has been told to stop behaving like a child and pay for a clean-up after he was found guilty of daubing political slogans on the historic Walls of Derry.
Gary Donnelly (43), from Iniscairn Road in the Creggan area of the city, was one of three bungling graffiti artists caught "white-handed" by police.
Officers filmed the offenders covered in paint as they daubed anti-internment slogans on a section of the walls overlooking the Bogside on February 1.
District Judge Barney McElholm said: "These men were about 30 years too late because, to my knowledge, internment ended in the 70s."
Donnelly was elected a member of the new Derry-Strabane super-council following May's local government elections.
He and co-defendants Liam Brogan (51) and Terry Porter (56), both from Carnhill, were given until November 5 to pay for the damage they caused to the walls, or face going to jail.
The cost of removing the paint was £2,292, Londonderry Magistrates Court heard. Judge McElholm told the court that, having read the evidence and viewed photographs of the incident, it was "quite clear all three were caught red-handed – or, in this case, literally white-handed since they were covered in white paint at the scene".
He added: "No one has a right to damage historic monuments."
The judge said that while the cost would initially be covered by the ratepayers of the city, it should not be their responsibility.
"This sort of behaviour is not political protest – it is juvenile behaviour in the extreme," he said.
"There are all sorts of ways of making political points, but to paint slogans on a historic monument is just vandalism."
He also said repaying the costs of cleaning the walls would be an alternative to jail.
Speaking outside court, the city's DUP Deputy Mayor said Donnelly's behaviour was not fitting for an elected representative.
"To have a criminal record isn't fitting," he added. "And to be charged in any form for anything – especially vandalism to his city's heritage – certainly isn't fitting of a public representative at all.
"Yes, he was democratically elected like the rest of us. But he does have responsibility, especially being a public representative, and I think over the course of the next number of weeks he will have to pay the full amount of damage.
"But at the same time, what he can't pay back is basically the damage done in terms of confidence in the political system here locally."
Derry SDLP councillor John Boyle said he hoped Donnelly would "take this as a lesson learned" and that he "won't repeat this type of activity or behaviour".
He added that Donnelly should make restitutions and "behave in an appropriate fashion".
District Judge Barney McElholm told Donnelly: "What are the proposals to repay the good people of this city for the expense of having to remove this graffiti? I do not believe the ordinary citizens should have to pay for those who indulge in the juvenile behaviour of this kind. The walls are clearly of local and international significance. They are probably the premier tourist draw for this city."