Thousands attend rallies across Ireland in apparent defiance of legal threats by lawyers for Ulster and Ireland rugby star Paddy Jackson

Hundreds gathered at a rally in support of victims of sexual assault, at Belfast City Hall. Picture by Justin Kernoghan

THOUSANDS have attended rallies across Ireland in apparent defiance of legal threats by lawyers for Ulster and Ireland rugby star Paddy Jackson.

Many demonstrators in Belfast, Dublin, Galway and Cork appeared to openly taunt KRW Law which, acting for 26 year-old Mr Jackson, warned it will "not hesitate" to start defamation proceedings against anyone "attacking" the player.

Within hours of the legal threat, there was a massive social media backlash against the human rights-specialising firm and player with the `hashtag' #SueMePaddy exploding across Twitter.

For much of the weekend it was the number one `trend' on Twitter in Ireland.

In Dublin, more than 4,000 protesters gathered outside City Hall, some with placards reading `Stand with Survivors', `Overhaul the System' and referencing the `IBelieveHer' campaign as they marched to the Department of Justice on St Stephen's Green on Saturday.

Belfast saw several hundred attended a protest outside City Hall organised by the socialist feminist organisation Rosa and waving banners reading #IBelieveHer and #MeToo.

There were chants of "two, four, six, eight, consent is not up for debate" as well as "my black dress does not mean yes" and "whatever we wear, we go yes means yes and no means no".

Along with friend and team mate Stuart Olding (25), Mr Jackson was unanimously acquitted of rape last week after a nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court.

The jury of eight men and three women deliberated for three hours and 45 minutes after hearing all the evidence presented during the nine-week trial.

Mr Jackson was also found not guilty of sexual assault.

Two other men were acquitted of lesser charges related to the same incident in June 2016.

Blane McIlroy (26) was acquitted of exposure while Rory Harrison (25) was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

The high-profile trial, which ran for 42 days, generated an unprecedented level of public attention and prompted calls from Jackson's defence solicitor for a crackdown on social media comment during criminal proceedings.

On Thursday, KRW Law announced defamation proceedings were being launched against Irish senator Aodhan O'Riordain over social media comments he made about the rugby international's acquittal.

His Twitter post has since been deleted.

"We will not hesitate to repeat similar legal action against anyone, who deliberately or otherwise, sees fit to attack our client," the firm said in a statement.

"We are examining carefully every item of social media commentary which seeks to challenge the integrity of the jury's full endorsement of our client's innocence. High court proceedings will issue shortly in both Belfast and Dublin."

The robust statement followed a day of protests in cities across Ireland and online, where the phrase `I Believe Her' became a rallying call for people demanding an overhaul of the rape trial system.

Marie Hans, senior associate at KRW Law, confirmed that it believes such hashtags and slogans "seek to undermine" the jury's decision.

"To the extent that the 'I believe her' comments seek to undermine the finding of the jury and imply that Mr Jackson is guilty of the crime of which he has been acquitted, they are defamatory," she said.

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