Police are treating the desecration of wreaths at the site of the IRA murder of 18 soldiers as a hate crime amid reports that football fans were to blame.
Poppy wreaths, crosses and written tributes were vandalised at Narrow Water, near Warrenpoint in Co Down where a British Army convoy was ambushed by two roadside bombs in 1979.
Cliftonville Football Club, a Belfast-based outfit whose supporters would mostly be drawn from the nationalist/republican tradition in Northern Ireland, said it was aware of reports that some people returning from Saturday’s fixture against Warrenpoint Town were responsible.
The club condemned the incident as “pathetic” and made clear that the perpetrators were not an official or affiliated supporters club.
Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor said: “I totally condemn any act of desecration. We live in a sad society where anyone would get a kick out of desecrating a memorial.
“If anyone connected with our Club has any information about the incident then they should report it to the PSNI. This pathetic act isn’t in my name nor that of Cliftonville Football Club.”
The club said it would cooperate fully with the Police Service of Northern Ireland investigation.
A PSNI spokesman said: “The incident is being treated as a hate crime.”
Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster condemned the vandalism.
“This was a disgusting and twisted act of hatred,” she said.
”Glad it is being condemned across the board. Those responsible need to be held accountable for their actions. Desecrating a memorial runs against the natural instincts of humanity.”
Ulster Unionist councillor David Taylor said: “It is hard to find words strong enough to condemn the actions of those so-called Cliftonville football fans who got off a bus at Narrow Water, Warrenpoint, on Saturday to desecrate a memorial to 18 men who were murdered on that site 39 years ago.
“Their attack on this memorial is deplorable. They have vandalised poppy wreaths and destroyed messages left in memory of those who were murdered at Narrow Water.
“These so called football fans are the lowest of the low and are intent on causing more pain for the families of the victims.
“They are vile and disgusting individuals who have brought shame on the football club which they claim to support. They must not be allowed to get away with this.
“I would expect to see prompt and robust action from the PSNI in pursuing the criminals responsible to bring them before the courts.
“Condemnation of the thugs responsible has come from all sections of the community, including Cliftonville Football Club, so it is clear that they should have nowhere to hide. They should never be allowed to darken the doors of Cliftonville Football Club again or any other football ground.”
Sinn Fein Assembly member Sinead Ennis said: “This is the second time in recent months that the wreaths at Narrow Water in Warrenpoint have been vandalised.
“There is no place for attacks like in our society and I condemn this act outright.
“Monuments and memorials are important places in communities and should be respected.
“I would encourage anyone with information on this incident to contact the PSNI.”