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Rallies across Ireland calling for rape trial changes

Hundreds gather on protest outside Laganside Courts in Belfast to demand reform of the justice system in dealing with sex offence cases. Picture by Hugh Russell.
John Monaghan

THOUSANDS of protesters staged rallies in cities and towns across Ireland yesterday to demand reform of the justice system in dealing with sex offence cases.

It followed the not-guilty verdicts delivered on Wednesday to Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding who had been accused of raping a student at a house party in Belfast.

Up to 1,000 people gathered outside the Laganside Courts complex in Belfast while 100 protesters gathered at the Guildhall in Derry.

In Dublin, part of O'Connell Street was blocked as demonstrators assembled outside the Spire. Protests were also held in Cork, Galway and Limerick.

Several hundred people attended the rally in Belfast as protesters held up yellow flowers, displayed signs with slogans such as 'overhaul the justice system' and chanted 'IbelieveHer'.

Despite the acquittals, many people have expressed their dissatisfaction at how the trial progressed as well as the verdicts.

Many have also taken to social media, using the hashtag #IBelieveHer, to voice their concerns.

Kelly O'Dowd from the Belfast Feminist Network told the assembled crowd that the current "criminal justice system is not fit for purpose when it comes to dealing with sexual crimes".

"Victims are re-traumatised and are treated like they are on trial.....the rampant culture of victim blaming and shaming needs addressed," said Ms O'Dowd.

"The media reporting of rape trials is intrusive...it serves to increase the distress of victims and survivors of sexual abuse and rape. Cases should not be reported on until after the jury has given its verdict," she added.

It came as one of the defence solicitors in the case added his voice to calls for a change to the legal system.

Joe McVeigh, who acted for Paddy Jackson in the case, said there were a number of legal issues that need to be addressed. Among those, he said, were more protections to stop the complainant being identified.

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