A PROTESTER who burned a Union Jack outside a first World War commemoration in Dublin attended by President Michael D Higgins and the Duke of Kent has been given a two-month suspended sentence.
Jonathan Hawthorne (42) set the British flag alight with a petrol-like accelerant and began to climb railings at Glasnevin cemetery during the historic unveiling of a memorial to Ireland's war dead.
Hawthorne's protest was followed by a "mob" surrounding gardai, Dublin District Court heard. Judge Bryan Smyth found him guilty of a public order offence and suspended the sentence for a year.
Hawthorne, a member of Republican Sinn Fein, stood by his actions but denied the charge, his defence claiming that burning the flag was not a crime and was comparable to a British national "wearing a poppy on O'Connell Street".
Hawthorne, a father-of-four of Ballintyre Downs, Ballinteer was charged with using threatening, abusive and insulting behaviour to cause a breach of the peace on July 31 last.
The Cross of Sacrifice, the first of its kind in Ireland to commemorate the dead of the first World War, was being unveiled on the day.
Garda Sergeant Oliver Flaherty told the court members of government were among those in attendance, along with an army band from the British defence forces.
A peaceful demonstration with around 30 protesters was taking place across the road from the cemetery at 12.40pm.
Hawthorne crossed the road to the railings opposite the event and placed a Union Jack flag on the footpath. He had a number of small plastic canisters and a lighter with him. He smashed the canisters with his foot, lit the flag and attempted to jump on the railings.
As Hawthorne was arrested, gardai were surrounded by protesters. They failed to move back when cautioned and Sgt Flaherty had no option but to pepper-spray them.
State Solicitor Michael Durkan argued that the burning of a national flag was "prima facie offensive".
Defence Solicitor Matthew Kenny said Hawthorne had been exercising his political beliefs on the day and "stands over his actions," Mr Kenny said.