Northern Ireland news

Protesters call on Ulster Rugby to 'stamp out misogyny' before first home game since rape trial acquittals of Jackson and Olding

Protestors outside the Kingspan Stadium before the Ulster rugby match. Picture by Matt Bohill

PROTESTERS last night called on Ulster Rugby to "stamp out misogyny" at the first home game for the team since the acquittal of two players in a high-profile rape trial.

The demonstration, organised by the Belfast Feminist Network, took place before Ulster faced Ospreys in a match overshadowed by speculation about the futures of Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson.

Jackson (26) and Olding (25) remain unavailable for selection whilst an internal review takes place.

The pair had been accused of raping the same woman at a house in Belfast in June 2016 but were cleared of all charges last month following a marathon nine-week trial.

However, questions have been raised about a series of sexually explicit WhatsApp conversations revealed during the trial involving the players and their friends.

More than 200 people gathered at the Mount Merrion Avenue entrance to the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast last night held placards, beat drums and listened to speeches.

The vast majority of rugby supporters filtered into the ground seemingly oblivious to the protest just across the road, although some stopped to take photos.

Inside the stadium, there was no discernible difference to the atmosphere before any other Ulster game, with few empty seats and the corporate boxes occupied as normal.

A third Ulster player, Craig Gilroy, was also left out of the squad last night.

Gilroy, who was not with the players on the night in question, has since been revealed to be the 'CG' which the trial heard sent an explicit message to Olding the day after the party at Jackson's house where the student claimed she had been raped.

Green Party deputy leader and South Belfast MLA Clare Bailey attended the demonstration and said that the "women of Ulster and Ireland have had enough".

Ms Bailey said: "We want to put an end to this misogyny; this lad culture.

"This is my Ulster team as well. It is very disappointing that Ulster Rugby have not come out and told us what is going on. We don't know why it has taken them so long.

"I would like to see education being addressed to tackle this woman hating culture that goes on within the sporting fraternity."

Kellie Turtle, from the Belfast Feminist Network, set out five points the group wanted to see addressed, including reforms to the criminal justice system in sex offence cases and the introduction of sex education programmes tackling "toxic masculinity".

Ms Turtle said: "Tonight we are here to send a message to Ulster Rugby and Irish Rugby and all those in positions of leadership in rugby: stamp out misogyny."

"We have spoken to so many women rugby players who are heart broken at what they have heard... the IRFU should let them lead this campaign," she said.

"If they don't deem (this conduct) to be a sackable offence, then Ulster Rugby and the IRFU have a serious problem."

Last night's protest attracted smaller numbers than a previous demonstration outside the Laganside courts complex in Belfast the day after the acquittals, when several hundred people gathered.

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