Northern Ireland news

Jackson apology 'long overdue'

Paddy Jackson who was found not guilty of rape almost two weeks ago, has issued an apology for his behaviour. Picture by Hugh Russell.

Green Party MLA Clare Bailey has said the apology issued by Ulster and Ireland rugby player Paddy Jackson yesterday was "long overdue" adding that he should now consider becoming an ambassador for compulsory consent education in schools.

In a carefully worded statement Jackson said he would "always regret" the events of "that evening" and apologised "unreservedly" for messages he sent to friends in the aftermath of a party at his house in 2016 during which a 19-year-old woman claimed she was raped.

While Jackson and teammate Stuart Olding were found not guilty during the nine week trial, the longest rape trial in Northern Ireland legal history, they remained the subject of intense public scrutiny due to the misogynist nature of the messages exchanged.

A full page advert, crowdfunded by over 100 people, was carried in Friday's Belfast Telegraph calling for the pair not to be allowed to represent either Ulster or Ireland in the future.

The players, who had been on a drinking binge following the end of a rugby tour in South Africa, exchanged messages during which they referred to women in their company as 'sluts' and talked of 'spit-roasting' the complainant.

In the statement issued yesterday Jackson said he had "betrayed the values of his family" and was sorry.

"I am also truly sorry for engaging in a Whatsapp group chat which was degrading and offensive and I apologise unreservedly for this.

"The criticism of my behaviour is fully justified and I know I have betrayed the values of my family and those of the wider public", he said.

The pair are currently subject to contract review by Ulster rugby about their off pitch behaviour. Teammate Craig Gilroy, who was not at the party but also exchanged an offensive WhatsApp message, is also subject to a review by the club.

Jackson's apology took a very different tone from the statement issued by the player's defence team outside court on the day of the not guilty verdict, during which he criticised the PPS, police and complainant. He later threatened legal action against a number of people who had made derogatory comments online.

South Belfast MLA Clare Bailey said: "The long overdue apology is to be welcomed as a step in the right direction.

"I have no doubt that the public backlash since the trial ended has helped him realise the enormity of his actions. It remains to be seen how this will affect his career in rugby.

"Perhaps the next step for him would be to become an ambassador for compulsory RSE (Relationships and Sexual Education) in all schools to highlight the need for consent and respect education".

However, Lord John Kilclooney said following the apology it was time for the public to forgive the Ulster player.

"The apology by Paddy Jackson is wholesome and total", he said.

"His behaviour was disgraceful but he has accepted that and has personally suffered much during the lengthy court case.

"In law he has been found not guilty, he has suffered, he has apologised, he has learnt, now time to forgive", he added.

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