LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A 23-year-old member of a Protestant Orange Order in Northern Ireland was ordered to community service after singing an offensive song mocking the murder of a Catholic woman in 2011.

The 27-year-old teacher Michaela McAreavey was killed in her hotel room while on honeymoon in Mauritius. McAreavey was from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland and the daughter of Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) football manager Mickey Harte.

Anti-religious hatred is a crime in Northern Ireland, which had seen decades of violence between Catholics and Protestant which mostly ended after the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.

However, anti-Catholic songs are still common in Protestant clubs. In May 2022, people in an Orange Hall were recorded singing a song making fun of McAreavey’s murder. The incident was condemned by the Orange Order.

Cian Jones was one of three men charged over the incident. The other two face trail at a later date. Jones pleaded guilty to a charge of behavior intending to stir up hatred.

The video of the chanting by the Orange Order members was played at Wednesday’s sentencing at Belfast Magistrates’ Court.

“They react to each other and some are punching their fists in the air as the song unfolds,” the prosecutor John O’Neill said.

“Those engaged in the singing of the song can be seen looking at each other as they do so, punching the air and generally acting in concert, encouraging each other in the conduct,” the lawyer added.

A statement from McAreavey’s husband was also read at the trial.

“He describes his shock at seeing the events on the video and hearing people who neither he nor Mrs. McAreavey knew singing about them,” O’Neill said.

“He realized it wasn’t the first time the song had been sung, time had been taken to pen the lyrics and for others to learn them. He described what he felt was the hatred and hurtful intent behind the song, and how certain aspects of his wife’s murder which were mentioned in the lyrics were particularly sensitive to him and hurtful to hear,” the lawyer continued.

During the sentencing, the judge said he agreed this violated the law.

“I am satisfied this offence was aggravated by hostility, based on religious belief,” Judge George Conner said during sentencing, where Jones was given 240 hours of community service.

“You must have known that the singing of that song would cause offence,” he said.

“The words were insulting and abusive. You have added to the distress of those who knew and loved Michaela McAreavey. You have brought shame on yourself and your family, and as a result of this offence you have lost your job,” the judged added.

Jones told the court that he did not mean to cause any offence and had been unaware the incident was being filmed.

His defense lawyer, Peter Sands, admitted the incident was “abhorrent, upsetting and incredibly offensive.”

“He offers his heartfelt apologies for the harm he caused and expresses genuine remorse for his actions,” he said.

“You were not alone in singing this song, and I hope that all those who joined in singing this song have been expelled from the band or any other body they were representing that day,” the judge said.

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