A GROUP OF fans of Ulster Rugby have commissioned a full-page advert in today’s Belfast Telegraph newspaper calling for the reinstatement of players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding to the team.
The ad declares itself ‘fed up’ with the ‘cyber persecution’ being dealt out to the men.
Jackson and Olding, together with friends Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison, were last month acquitted of all charges after nine weeks in what came to be known as the Belfast rugby rape trial.
The verdict, together with Jackson’s subsequent stated declaration via his solicitor that he would be suing Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin for defamation, led to substantial protests around Ireland’s cities declaring solidarity with the woman who made the accusations against the men.
‘We’ve all done silly things’
Following on from the advertisement, Willie John McBride, former Ireland and Lions captain and now President of the Official Supporters Club of Ulster Rugby spoke to RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.
While he said that he doesn’t know the men at all, he felt that it was time they were let get back to the game having been found not guilty.
“The guys have come through a very traumatic couple of months, where they have virtually been tried on television every day, walking in and out of the court. They have been tried in the press every day and they have been found not guilty,” McBride said.
“The complainant has had to endure it as well, she was part of it. She obviously didn’t get the exposure on television and press as the guys had but it is sad for her as well. These young people, all of them, are going to regret it for the rest of their lives.
The old saying is when the alcohol is in, common sense is out. It’s very sad that they have all got caught up in this.
As far as I’m concerned, these young men have learned their lesson. It’s time they got back to doing what they do best and that is playing rugby.
When put to McBride the amount of alcohol taken by Stuart Olding on the night in question, he laughed and said “he’s some drinker”. He said that he didn’t believe that he had drank that much, even though that was the evidence given.
“We’ve all done silly things in our time,” McBride said.
He said that the WhatsApp messages sent by the rugby players the morning after the alleged incident brought the game into disrepute. However, he told Sean O’Rourke that they conducted themselves very well while on camera every day throughout the trial.
“They carried themselves very well through that, hopefully, people will see that these are not bad young men,” he said.
In response to McBride’s statement, Noeline Blackwell of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said that his comments “entirely missed” what people were concerned about following the trial.
“They don’t seem to recognise that the behaviour of some of the most prominent rugby players in the country was extraordinarily disrespectful.”
This is a matter which the IRFU and Ulster Rugby must address as they have said they will do, not only in relation to those players but in relation to any culture within rugby that might in any way condone or encourage that behaviour.
- You can contact the national 24-hour helpline run by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre at 1800 77 88 88
Today’s advert also serves as a rejoinder to a similar ad taken out recently in the same newspaper calling for Olding and Jackson to never again play for Ireland or Ulster.
“To the leadership of the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby,” today’s ad reads.
What is reprehensible is the extent of the social media backlash aimed at incriminating men unanimously acquitted of any crime. We are fed up with this cyber persecution.
As Ulster and Irish rugby fans, we want these innocent men reinstate and rightly allowed to resume their roles for both club and country. The IRFU should take note of the silent majority and not bow to the court of social media.
We do not expect an answer to this letter, but we do expect them to play.
Yours, real fans standing up for the Ulster men.
- with reporting by Hayley Halpin and Gráinne Ní Aodha. Article updated at 8.40pm to include statement from Noeline Blackwell.