Monday 10 December 2018

Cliftonville coach quits as Belfast club says child image player Jay Donnelly won't be picked

Cliftonville player Jay Donnelly.
Cliftonville player Jay Donnelly.

Mark Bain

A planned protest at Cliftonville FC has been called off after the club broke its silence to confirm that striker Jay Donnelly will not play in a match today.

In a second development, the club's first team coach quit, saying he had "no choice".

The north Belfast side will take on Dungannon Swifts in the Danske Bank Premiership at Solitude stadium.

It comes days after it emerged Donnelly had pleaded guilty to a charge of distributing an indecent image of a child.

He admitted the offence last Friday, and played against Linfield in last Saturday's Premiership fixture. It is unclear whether Cliftonville knew of the guilty plea at the time.

Last night, Cliftonville's first team coach Neil Adair posted on Twitter that he had resigned from his role.

His post, which made no reference to Donnelly, stated: "For the record: I have left my position of first team coach at Cliftonville FC. I've been warmly welcomed at the club and am gutted to be leaving. This is not ideal personally or professionally but I feel I have no choice in the circumstances. I wish the club well going forward."

It came hours after it emerged the club had written to members, making it clear that Donnelly (23) would not be selected for the team in the current circumstances.

The Belfast Feminist Network, which had planned to protest if the club continued to name Donnelly in their team, said they would not now be protesting outside the club's ground. Instead, they said they will be engaging with the club on how they can "support their efforts to challenge sexually harmful behaviour".

In a statement issued yesterday, Cliftonville said: "As we are sure our supporters are aware, Cliftonville Football Club are dealing with a very sensitive and delicate matter in relation to Jay Donnelly.

"The club committee must always ensure that they act correctly when dealing with legal and employment matters and, as such, we have over the past few days been speaking to and availing of advice from all parties involved as well as support organisations.

"We have received legal advice not to comment on this matter further at this time.

"We assure all that this situation is extremely difficult to resolve and ask our supporters and indeed the media to please bear with us as we seek a resolution.

"Having spoken to all parties and Jay Donnelly, it has been decided Jay will not represent Cliftonville FC in tomorrow's fixture with Dungannon Swifts."

The Belfast Feminist Network, along with Reclaim the Night, said: "We now intend to approach the Irish Football Association to talk about wider institutional change as we've become aware through this process of how there is no framework for accountability across clubs when it comes to players who have been convicted of sexual offences."

The Courts Service confirmed on Wednesday that Donnelly was convicted of one charge - distributing or showing an indecent image of a child - following a guilty plea entered last Friday.

A separate count of taking or making an indecent photograph was withdrawn.

Donnelly, of Ardilea Drive in the Ardoyne area of Belfast, will be sentenced in January.

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