Derry’s District Judge Barney McElholm has said he had “no choice” but to jail two local men who shouted abuse at tourists close to the City Walls during last summer’s Maiden City Festival, describing their behaviour as “offensive, loutish and with significant sectarian undertones”.
Mr McElholm said the behaviour of Ruairi Canning (21) of Galliagh Park and Ryan John Sharkey (19) of Kular Court was “absolutely outrageous” adding that the court could not be strong enough in its disapproval of the actions of the men towards visitors to the city.
“We are entering the City of Culture year where there will be thousands, if not tens of thousands of visitors to this city. It is an absolute disgrace that any citizen of this city would behave in this way.”
Mr. McElholm added that some of the slurs called to female tourists as they walked along the city’s walls were too offensive to be repeated in open court.
The court had been told that on August 8 last year, at 10am, an actor working as part of the Maiden City Festival took up his position on the City Walls where he was to act out short scenes for tourists.
When he arrived at the walls he saw a group of young men on the nearby pathway at Fahan Street drinking, with alcohol in plastic bags, One of the men appeared to be sleeping and another was urinating on the grass.
The actor was approached by a tourist and started reciting his script - which included a mention of Londonderry. One of the men, now known to be Canning shouted “Orange bastard” at him before turning and shaking his penis in the direction of the tourists. He then shouted: “Orange c***”.
A short time later a group of females approached the walls.
The men shouted to the women, asking where they were from and when the girls walked away Sharkey was seen throwing a beer bottle in their direction.
Another group of tourists then approached and the men also asked them where they were from - as the group walked away one of the men was heard to shout: “F*** off, you Russian bastards” before attempting to throw a bottle at them - however this slipped from his hand.
Both defendants continued to be highly offensive when police arrived and were subsequently arrested.
The court heard that Canning was also facing a second charge relating to an incident at Glendara on May 9 when police were involved in a public order operation. Canning became abusive shouting to police: “F*** off out of our town. You’re not wanted in our town. W***ers.”
He was arrested and continued to be abusive, telling police: “It’s a disgrace. Do what you want.”
Defence Barrister Eoghan Devlin said he was aware the court would be “incandescant with rage at how visitors to our city were treated”.
He said both his clients were aware of the “exceptionally serious nature” of their offences but asked that the court take into consideration the fact both men had remained out of trouble since the incident and that Canning had served one month on remand in relation to the matter.
Addressing the court Mr Devlin said there were few mitigating factors in Canning’s case, saying he had the “typical background” which could be expected of someone committing these kind of offences. He said the defendant had abused drugs and alcohol through his teenage years and now into his early 20s.
Canning, he added, had been subjected to a punishment shooting in the past and had lived under the cloud of a death threat. He described him as a “young man who has faced considerable challenges”.
Commenting on Sharkey, Mr Devlin said his client has made an effort to change his ways and is now part of a relationship which seems to have offered him some stability. He said his client was “on the cusp of turning his life around”.
He asked Judge McElholm to offer the men an opportunity to continue to change their ways.
He asked that Canning be given “one last bite of the cherry” and that Sharkey be given the chance to continue trying to turn his life around.
However Judge McElholm said the “upset and trauma caused to the visitors of the city” was such that the only option was an immediate custodial sentence. He described both men as “essentially as bad as each other” and said he would make no difference in their jail term.
Both men were sentenced to five months in prison. In addition Canning was fined a total of £1500.
He also received a further, concurrent three month sentence for his disorderly behaviour on May 9.