Northern Ireland news

Cliftonville Football Club issues fresh statement condemning behaviour of Jay Donnelly

Cliftonville footballer Jay Donnelly pictured outside Belfast magistrates court
Marie Louise McConville

UNDER pressure Cliftonville Football Club last night released a fresh statement following criticism from its own supporters about its response in the wake of the sentencing of Jay Donnelly.

The Irish League football club said it condemned the behaviour of the striker, who was handed a four-month prison sentence on Thursday after being convicted of sharing an indecent photograph of a child.

Cliftonville FC's statement came as the Irish Football Association announced that Donnelly will face its disciplinary committee.

The IFA said the committee will decide if the semi-professional player has brought the game into disrepute. It also announced it would introduce a new education policy for players in the wake of the Donnelly case.

Donnelly (23) of Ardilea Drive in Belfast, was convicted of the charge in November at Belfast Magistrates' Court. He was sentenced to four months in prison, but released on bail pending appeal.

During the sentencing hearing, it emerged that Donnelly had taken a photograph described in court as "extremely intimate" of a 16-year-old girl while they were having sexual intercourse.

Cliftonville FC dropped the footballer after he pleaded guilty to the charge last year.

In the aftermath of the sentencing, the club said the court judgment and appeal would be "given due consideration".

In a brief statement on Thursday, which did not mention the victim, Cliftonville FC said it was "mindful of their duties and responsibilities and will continue to act on this basis".

But following criticism from one of its supporters' clubs and a feminist group, Cliftonville FC last night issued a lengthier statement distancing itself from Donnelly's behaviour.

"We wish to reiterate, as we said in our statement of December 1, that the club does not condone such behaviour and recognises the impact that this has had on the victim and her family. We condemn such actions without question," it said.

"We previously stated that the club will not shirk its responsibilities to our members, supporters and the wider community and that remains the case.

"The club is currently receiving legal advice and, when we are in a clear position to act, the club will do so, responsibly and within the requirements of employment law."

The club statement also urged patience, saying: "We are constrained by the framework within which we as employers are legally obliged to operate".

The statement added: "Cliftonville FC takes its position within the football and wider community very seriously. We expect our players' behaviour, on and off the pitch, to reflect the proud history and culture of our club.

"We will seek out the most appropriate way to reinforce that message, including bringing in external advisers who can work with all our players on issues around relationship behaviour, social media and mutual respect."

The IFA last night said it had referred Donnelly to its disciplinary committee which will decide if he has brought the game into disrepute.

It said it will introduce a new mandatory education programme for all clubs around lifestyle, attitude and values following the case.

"Following the case and the issues that it raised, the Irish FA in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) will introduce a new education programme around lifestyle, attitude and values for club players and staff," a spokesperson said.

"It is proposed that this programme will be linked to club licensing, making it mandatory.

"Cliftonville Football Club has today asked both the Irish FA and NIFL to be part of a consultative group that will help frame the club’s player education policies going forward.

"The safeguarding of children remains the highest priority of the association and our sympathy is with the victim and her family in this case."

Earlier yesterday, the North Belfast Reds Cliftonville Supporters Club voiced "dismay" at the club's initial statement on Thursday.

"We believe that in light of the sentence and what is now in the public domain, that the club must act swiftly and begin full disciplinary proceedings against the player," it said.

"To wait until the outcome of any possible appeal is unacceptable and damages the reputation of the club.

"Finally and most importantly there was a 16 year old girl at the heart of this crime and our full sympathy goes out to her and her family.

"Victims should be our prime concern, not the convicted."

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