Irish rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been told they will no longer play for Ulster or their country.
Sources at Ulster rugby confirmed reports on Friday night that the pair who were at the centre of a high-profile trial in which they were cleared of rape have been informed of the decision.
The players were made aware by the sport’s authorities in Belfast and Dublin of the results of an internal review into their status following the conclusion of the court case.
It is understood one option open for the duo is to play rugby professionally outside of the UK or Ireland, possibly in France or Japan.
The news came on the same day that more than 300 feminist campaigners and women’s rights groups took part in a protest outside the home of Ulster rugby on Friday to highlight what they say is a prevailing culture of misogyny in the sport.
They staged their demonstration on a grassy area facing the entrance to Kingspan stadium ahead of Ulster’s clash with Welsh side Ospreys.
The demonstration is part of a wider movement – appearing online under #IBelieveHer – that has sprung up across Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after the acquittal of the Ireland rugby internationals Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding for rape last month.
One of their friends, Blane McIlroy, was found not guilty of indecent exposure; another, Rory Harrison, was cleared of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.
Although there was a large police presence on the avenue that runs parallel to the stadium, the atmosphere between Ulster supporters and the demonstrators was generally civil.
The only discordant note was struck when a teenage girl ran across the road and opened her coat to reveal a T-shirt with the slogan: “I support Paddy Jackson” emblazoned on it. A man who was accompanying the girl wearing an Ulster tracksuit top took a picture of her as she posed in front of the demonstration.
One of the protest’s organisers from the Belfast Feminist Network, Kellie Turtle said it was designed to put pressure on the Ulster and Irish rugby authorities to tackle what she said was “the ongoing culture of sexism and misogyny” around the sport.
Turtle said that ahead of their protest the organisers had been contacted by a large number of female rugby players who said they were too afraid to speak out.
“They said they feared being sidelined by their clubs if they speak publicly over their concerns regarding sexism and misogynistic attitudes in rugby. That has got to change! Ulster rugby has to start an education programme teaching players from their elite players downwards that the kind of attitudes to women we heard about during that trial are stamped out,” she said.
The trial focused on the events in June 2016 at a party in Jackson’s south Belfast home in which a 21-year-old woman alleged she had been raped and sexually assaulted.
A day after the men were all found not guilty last month, up to 1,000 people demonstrated outside Belfast’s Laganside courts criticising the trial but also demanding that Jackson and Olding no longer play for province or country.
For the Belfast Feminist Network this week the lifting of some remaining reporting restrictions from the nine-week long trial revealed the prevalence of sexist behaviour and attitudes in sports like rugby.
It can now be revealed that Harrison sent a pornographic video to Olding’s mobile phone the morning after the party at Jackson’s house showing three unknown people – two men and a woman – engaged in a sex act. The trial judge, Patricia Smyth, had ruled this evidence could not be heard by the 11-member jury.
The latest revelation has compounded the anger of many Irish women over the attitudes of the players and their friends.
Arguments over whether Jackson and Olding can resume their top-level rugby careers have been played out in two full-page advertisements in the Belfast Telegraph. The newspaper is a sponsor for the Ulster team.
Jackson and Olding’s supporters paid £2,000 this week for an ad in which they demanded that “these innocent men are reinstated and rightly allowed to resume their roles for both club and country”.
The advertisement was in response to a previous ad last week organised by a rugby fan, Anna Nolan. In a direct appeal to Irish and Ulster rugby’s high command, her ad said the players’ behaviour “falls far beneath the standards that your organisations represent and as such we demand that neither of these men represents Ulster or Ireland now or at any point in the future”.
Most Ulster fans attending Friday’s match either ignored the protest or stopped to take pictures of the demonstration with their mobile phones. One man, in his 60s, who was unprepared to give his name on his way into the stadium said: “I’d rather talk about how this team of mine is underperforming.”
Ahead of the game Ulster fan, Mark Neale, a season ticketholder for 20 years, said the trial verdict “has to be respected” and that Jackson and Olding deserved a “fair and proportionate” hearing to establish whether they should be reinstated.
Neale who attended the match with his family said pressure on businesses to pull out of sponsorship deals for Ulster was “unnecessary and unfair.”
One of Ulster’s main sponsors, the Bank of Ireland, confirmed this week it expressed concerns to the club’s chief executive “regarding the serious behaviour and conduct issues” that emerged during the high-profile trial.
As the game inside the stadium began a familiar chant went up from the home supporters to the tune of The Village People’s 1970s hit Go West. The fans sang in unison: “Stand Up for the Ulstermen.”
Across the road on the grass island between the trees the demonstrators held up banners stating: “Stand Up for the Ulsterwomen.”