Northern Ireland news

Petition calling for reinstatement of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding temporarily removed

Paddy Jackson came through the youth system at Ulster Rugby. Picture by Hugh Russell

A PETITION calling for the reinstatement of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding was temporarily removed from the internet, as Ulster Rugby come under renewed pressure to take "responsibility for the character and behaviour of players".

The petition on Change.org had attracted more than 10,000 signatures and demanded the recall of the players to the side after they were found not guilty of rape following a nine-week trial.

Jackson was cleared of a further charge of sexual assault.

Change.org has not revealed whether it removed the petition or it was taken down by the originator before it reappeared.

Former Ulster player Neil Best has also called for the players to remain on the side, following the trial, but criticised the province for its "preparation" in its youth system.

"Not only are these young men employees of Ulster Rugby, but they'd come through the youth system - supposedly prepared as potential role models, for the pressures of fame and wealth in the goldfish bowl that is Belfast," he wrote on rugbypass.com.

"The club and that system must shoulder a shared responsibility for the character and behaviour of players it produces.

"Rather than suspending or sacking them maybe Ulster should seek to further educate them on standards and attitudes it expects and review current programmes to minimise the prospect of one of their system's products ever becoming involved in anything like this again."

Mr Best, who has 100 Ulster caps and also played for Ireland, said he felt compelled to speak out following the suspension of the pair and teammate Craig Gilroy, who are all under a joint IRFU/Ulster Rugby review for a series of misogynistic WhatsApp exchanges which emerged during the trial.

He said carrying on without the players would be the easy way out and the "more difficult and right course for Ulster Rugby to take is to retain these players and guide them to higher standards of conduct for what's left of their playing careers".

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