Northern Ireland news

Glentoran FC manager defends signing convicted sex-offender footballer Jay Donnelly

Jay Donnelly pictured with Glentoran FC manager Mick McDermott. Picture from Glentoran FC

THE manager of Glentoran Football Club has said convicted sex offender footballer Jay Donnelly "made a critical mistake, a lapse in judgement" as he defended signing the striker.

Mick McDermott said the footballer had "served his time" and deserved the chance to rebuild his career.

The former Cliftonville player, now 25, admitted sharing an indecent image of a child in 2016 and was sentenced to three months in prison.

He was prosecuted after taking a photograph of a 16-year-old girl while they were having sex in 2016. The image was sent to a friend and a WhatsApp group that included fellow Cliftonville players.

It was then leaked and appeared on social media.

After sentencing, Donnelly was sacked by Cliftonville and charged by the Irish FA with bringing the game into disrepute and suspended from playing football until September 1 2019.

In January he signed for Belfast Celtic and on Wednesday it was confirmed he would join Irish Cup winners Glentoran.

In a statement, the club said it "believes that everyone deserves a chance to put mistakes behind them and Jay Donnelly is no different".

"The club acknowledges that he has both paid and atoned for his past mistakes and deserves the opportunity to rebuild his life and football career," it said.

"We look forward to him making a positive contribution to the club, and to giving our supporters further reason to see the coming season as one of great opportunity for Glentoran."

The club's manager also defended the signing of the striker, claiming Donnelly had "served a harsh punishment for what he did".

"Jay has made amends for that, he has served his time, he has apologised for it," McDermott told the BBC.

"He knows he made a critical mistake, a lapse in judgment at that time.

"That's not to diminish the impact that it had on the young lady at time by no means, we have to remember there was a victim in this case."

In a statement on the club website, Donnelly said he was "humbled" to be given the opportunity.

"I wish to express my complete remorse and regret at the actions that led to my conviction in 2019," he said.

"Age and immaturity are not an excuse for an action that I now realise to have been very hurtful and damaging to the woman and her family.

"I have had several years now to reflect on my actions, and I can guarantee everyone both in football and society that I have learned from my mistake and it is something I would never consider repeating."

He also said he had agreed with the club to undertake "counselling and guidance on appropriate behaviour".

The Belfast Feminist Network however said it was appalled by the club's statement.

"This is a crime regardless of the number of people he shared it with, or whether they were his friends, and the sexual act being consensual."

They said it caused a 16-year-old girl severe distress and made her a target for harassment.

"We are disappointed that Jay will undoubtedly be held up as a role model when he is anything but."

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