IRFU to announce departure of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding following internal review
THE IRFU are expected this weekend to announce the departure of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.
The decision comes after an internal review which concluded on Wednesday, and it is understood the players were informed then.
Both players had been cleared of a rape charge a fortnight ago after a nine week trial at Belfast Crown Court. In addition Jackson had been found not guilty of sexual assault.
Their positions remained under scrutiny as support became polarised. Former Ireland and Lions captain Willie John McBride said earlier this week they should be allowed to return to play. A full page advertisement was taken out this week in the Belfast Telegraph by Ulster supporters calling for their reinstatement. That followed an ad in the same paper last week by “concerned fans” calling for their dismissal.
The IRFU and Ulster Rugby have been carrying out a review into the players' future in the wake of their acquittal on rape charges last month.
A jury of eight men and three women found Jackson, 26, and Olding, 25, unanimously not guilty of rape after deliberating for three hours and 45 minutes after a marathon nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court.
All jurors also acquitted Jackson of sexual assault.
Two other men, Blane McIlroy (26) and Rory Harrison (25) were also unanimously acquitted of lesser charges connected to the case.
The Ulster Rugby and IRFU review has focused on a series of sexually explicit WhatsApp conversations revealed during the trial involving the players and their friends.
A number of the club's main sponsors expressed concern at the fallout following the court case and called on it to conclude its review swiftly.
Yesterday Ulster sponsor Bank of Ireland issued the following statement to Independent.ie
"As a sponsor of Ulster Rugby, Bank of Ireland is highly concerned regarding the serious behaviour and conduct issues which have emerged as a result of the recent high profile trial. The Bank has formally conveyed these concerns to the CEO of Ulster Rugby.
"It is of paramount importance to Bank of Ireland that our sponsorship activity aligns with and supports our core values, and reflects positively on Bank of Ireland through association”.
Around 250 people staged a protest outside Ulster Rugby's stadium on Friday night ahead of the team's first home game since the two players were acquitted of rape.
They were found not guilty of raping the same woman at a house party at Jackson's home.
Demonstrators gathered outside the Kingspan Stadium in east Belfast ahead of Ulster's Pro14 match against the Ospreys to express solidarity with the woman at the centre of the case and call for changes to how complainants in rape trials are treated by the criminal justice system.
They also called for action against what they claim is a misogynistic culture within rugby.
The picket was organised by the Belfast Feminist Network.
An intense debate on the players' future has been played out in newsprint and online since the verdicts.
Campaigners calling for Jackson and Olding to be axed took out a prominent newspaper advert last week.
Supporters demanding their reinstatement followed suit with their own newspaper advert this week.
Thousands of people on both sides of the argument have also signed competing online petitions reflecting their views.