Rape trial fallout: Pressure mounts on IRFU to end Paddy Jackson's contract
The prospects of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding continuing their rugby careers in Ireland look increasingly unlikely this weekend as an investigation gets under way to decide if they have brought the sport into disrepute.
The IRFU and Ulster Rugby are examining the pair's conduct, including the series of graphic text and WhatsApp messages revealed during their trial for rape in Belfast where they were found not guilty.
The fallout from the extraordinary case which ended with the acquittal on all charges of Jackson, Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison continued yesterday as thousands of people, mainly women, attended rallies and marches on both sides of the Border.
Nearly 4,000 marched in Dublin, several hundred held a rally in Belfast and there were also gatherings in Cork and Galway expressing support for the complainant.
The Sunday Independent learnt last night that Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan is to begin an immediate review into all aspects of how deeply sensitive trials are conducted here.
Adding further pressure on the IRFU, an online petition, which already has 50,000 signatories, is demanding that the organisation review its contract with the players, putting pressure on the game's governing body at a time when the sport should be basking in the afterglow of the Grand Slam triumph.
Both the IRFU and Ulster Rugby have received a significant volume of written correspondence from the public, with many demanding that the players' contracts be terminated.
The Sunday Independent has learnt that Jackson's legal bill is at least €500,000 and has already been discharged by him in full.
It is also understood that the internal review will be carried out by two senior IRFU officials and two representatives from Ulster Rugby.
While the legal system in the Republic is more robust than in Northern Ireland in relation to rape and sexual offence trials, Justice Minister Mr Flanagan intends to study "what more can be done to protect women and girls here" in such trials.
There has been widespread concern about the Belfast trial, specifically over public access and the use of social media.
Yesterday Mr Flanagan told the Sunday Independent he intended to start consultations with women's advocacy groups and the legal profession "without delay".
A legal representative of the IRFU monitored proceedings at Belfast Crown Court for the entire trial and their report will form part of the internal review.
The panel will interview Jackson and Olding separately. Both men are entitled to legal representation and have signalled their desire to be represented for the duration of the inquiry.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is also investigating a death threat made against Jackson's lawyer, Joe McVeigh, in the wake of the unanimous not guilty verdicts. It is understood that Mr McVeigh will continue to act for Jackson.
A senior source in Irish rugby said: "Both men have been found not guilty in the eyes of the law. However, what still must be established is whether or not the players have brought the game and/or the union into disrepute."
Asked whether the contents of the men's phones - including messages of a sexually explicit nature - would be used as evidence, the source said: "That was part of the evidence at the trial, so yes, you would expect that to be the case."
Pressed further on whether personal information on a private mobile phone made public by court proceedings could be used as evidence, the source added: "It has to be taken into account that that information is now in the public domain."
The IRFU must make an application to Belfast Crown Court if it intends to seek full transcripts of evidence which includes details of texts and other electronic messages.
Asked whether the public reaction in the aftermath of the acquittal would be taken into account, the source said: "That would be expected, given the definition of what you would term 'disrepute'."
The terms of the standard rugby player contract are broad in scope, especially a clause relating to termination.
The IRFU reserves the right to "summarily terminate this agreement and to dismiss the player from its employment if the player is guilty of gross misconduct or has committed a serious breach of the terms of this agreement or any of the IRFU's policies, codes and regulations notified to the player from time to time. That includes being guilty of any form of conduct which brings the IRFU, the game or the player into disrepute".
It is understood that any player whose contract is being terminated must be given four weeks written notice.
Jackson and Olding are both on contracts with the organisation valued at between €100,000 and €300,000, with Olding paid less than Jackson.
Both men's current contracts with the IRFU were signed only weeks before events at a party at Jackson's home in the early hours of June 28, 2016 which led to his prosecution along with that of Olding, McIlroy and Harrison.
"The IRFU would rarely let a contract run out. So if the contract was due to finish in the summer of 2016, a deal would have been completed in the spring of that year. It usually happens around the Six Nations competition, which means the contract of both players currently runs to the summer of 2019," the source added.
Asked whether the organisation would have to compensate the players if their contracts were terminated early, the source said: "If any player is found to have brought the game into disrepute, then the IRFU may not be obliged to pay to the end the contract."
Of Jackson's estimated €500,000 legal bill, the source said: "It is a blind fortune. It is an extraordinary sum of money. Patrick did not have legal aid and has paid for all of his legal representation from his own pocket. He has also already paid his costs in full."
The Sunday Independent has learnt that two clubs - one in the UK and the other in France - have already approached Jackson. A third club has also shown interest in both Jackson and Olding.
However, Jackson is said to have made it clear to his representatives that the only club he wants to play for is Ulster.
Legal representatives for Jackson and Olding are preparing a full defence to any charge that they have brought the game into disrepute to ensure their clients see out their current contracts in totality. "He is not interested in anything else," the source said of Jackson.
Both the IRFU and Ireland team coach Joe Schmidt have said players are less likely to get picked for the national team if they are not playing for one of the four Irish provinces.
However, when asked about Jackson's future in a green jersey, a senior Irish rugby source said other options were now available to Schmidt as back-up to Johnny Sexton, including Leinster's Joey Carbery who is seen as a natural fly-half by the coach, though his club has tended to utilise his skills at full back.