'I am even more determined to prove myself' - Olding and Jackson respond after IRFU sack Irish rugby players
- Two Ireland and Ulster stars will depart after internal review
- 'Respect, inclusivity and integrity' - IRFU confirm contracts 'revoked'
- Both were found not guilty after a high profile rape trial
The IRFU have confirmed Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been sacked following an internal review.
As reported by Brendan Fanning last night, the review following the Belfast rape trial concluded last Wednesday and the players were informed then of the decision.
While Mr Jackson (26) and Mr Olding (25) were found not guilty last month after a high-profile trial, other aspects of their behaviour have been heavily criticised, with major sponsors of Ulster Rugby having voiced concern.
The IRFU and Ulster Rugby review had focused on a series of sexually explicit WhatsApp conversations involving the players and their friends about the sexual encounter at the centre of the rape trial.
An IRFU statement read: "Following a review, conducted in the aftermath of recent court proceedings, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby have revoked the contracts of Patrick Jackson and Stuart Olding with immediate effect.
"In arriving at this decision, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby acknowledge our responsibility and commitment to the core values of the game: Respect, Inclusivity and Integrity.
"It has been agreed, as part of this commitment, to conduct an in-depth review of existing structures and educational programmes, within the game in Ireland, to ensure the importance of these core values is clearly understood, supported and practised at every level of the game."
Mr Jackson expressed his disappointment with the IRFU's decision.
In a statement to the Press Association he said: "I am deeply disappointed about the outcome of the IRFU and Ulster Rugby's internal review.
"However, I recognise that my behaviour has fallen far short of the values expected of me as an international player, a role model for the game of rugby and as a son and a brother. I am truly sorry.
"Since I was a young boy it was my ambition to play for Ulster and Ireland and I am extremely proud, privileged and honoured to have done so. It is therefore with great sadness and regret but with many cherished memories that I leave that behind.
"I would like to thank everyone who has supported me throughout this process. I have taken great strength from that support. I'd also like to thank Ulster and Irish rugby for the opportunities that they provided for me and I wish them, and all my former team mates, every success.
"My focus in the months and years ahead will be on rebuilding the trust placed in me by people throughout Ulster and Ireland."
Stuart Olding also issued a statement expressing his regret.
It said: "It is with regret that I have been informed that the IRFU have decided to revoke my contract.
"As I said outside court following my acquittal, I am and will always be fiercely proud of having played for my province and country.
"I very much wished to continue to have the opportunity to represent them.
"Regrettably, influences outside of my contractual arrangement have made it impossible for that to happen.
"I said outside court that the Stuart Olding that you read about in the trial is not the real Stuart Olding.
"The treatment that I have received since my acquittal, both fair and unfair, has made me even more determined to prove myself.
"With the support of my family and friends I shall seek new challenges elsewhere. I bear no one any ill will.
"I am very sorry that this day has come to pass.
"To those who have supported me through these last 20 months and especially the fans who continue to support me, I thank you all."
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 focused on a series of sexually explicit WhatsApp conversations revealed during the trial involving the players and their friends.
Craig Gilroy, meanwhile, will remain an Ulster player after being sanctioned.
It is understood Gilroy, who was not involved in the incident or the trial, sent one of the sexually explicit messages that featured in conversations outlined to the jury during the nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court.
He "apologised unreservedly" for any offence caused.
"Following a review of a text message sent by Craig Gilroy, the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby have sanctioned him, following a disciplinary process in accordance with the terms of his contract.
"Craig will be unavailable for team selection until the 26th April 2018."
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.
This week 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.
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.