THREE men who caused “enormous damage to the Protestant community” in east Donegal were given lengthy suspended prison sentences when they appeared before Letterkenny Circuit Court today.

All three had pleaded guilty to burglary and arson offences at a previous hearing.

Today’s court heard that on December 6th 2008, gardai responded to an incident a the Presbyterian Church Hall in St Johnston after reports of a fire.

Almost €29,000 worth of damage was done to the hall in the attack.

Before today’s court was Emmett O’Donnell, 23, of Ard Baithin, St Johnston, Kelan Clarke, 22, of Ard Baithin, St Johnston and Donal Gillespie, 21, of Old Road, St Johnston.

The court heard the three had put chairs into the centre of church hall and set them alight. They had also emptied fire extinguishers during the incident.

Barristers representing all three men confirmed to the court that they had each made contributions to the church of €4,000 in compensation, even though the fire was covered by insurance, as directed at a previous hearing by Circuit Court Judge John O’Hagan.

“I recall this particular case very well. This particular hall was a pivotal centre for the Protestant community in this area and it was absolutely trashed,” said Judge O’Hagan.

“These young men know this place very well and decided to trash it.”

The Judge said the offences were particularly serious and he praised Rev Craig Wilson for “his magnanimous” decision to offer a hand of friendship to the accused so that they could “turn their lives around.”

Each of the men was sentenced to three years imprisonment on each count – burglary and arson.

The sentences were suspended for three years, with a €500 surety to keep the peace.

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