Belfast Telegraph

What does Jay Donnelly have to do to get sacked by Cliftonville?

Footballer Jay Donnelly arriving at Laganside Court in Belfast. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Footballer Jay Donnelly arriving at Laganside Court in Belfast. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Cliftonville footballer Jay Donnelly arrives at court yesterday

By Gillian Halliday

A former Stormont Sports Minister has called for Cliftonville Football Club to sack Jay Donnelly after he was jailed yesterday for sharing an indecent image of a child.

The striker is spending his 24th birthday in jail today after being handed a three-month prison term by a judge who rejected an appeal for his sentence to be suspended.

Donnelly previously admitted distributing a photograph of the then 16-year-old taken while they were having sex in 2016.

He was originally sentenced to four months in jail in January, but was released on bail pending an appeal.

Yesterday a judge at Belfast County Court reduced his original term to three months, but refused to suspend the sentence.

Afterwards Cliftonville said it would "follow the required club disciplinary procedures" - but stopped short of confirming whether Donnelly's contract would be ripped up.

Former Sports Minister Edwin Poots said his position at the Solitude club was untenable.

"He's now on the sex offenders' register, he's now a convicted sex offender," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

Mr Poots, who held the post from 2007 to 2008, said the club should not drag its feet on the issue.

"For Cliftonville, it probably shouldn't be that difficult a decision," he added.

"Donnelly can't really be playing with all the fans cheering him when he scores, knowing what he's done. In my view he should be sacked."

Donnelly, of Ardilea Drive in Belfast, took the photograph of himself having sex with the girl who was wearing a club shirt with his name and number on the back in June 2016.

He shared the image with a friend and a WhatsApp group with 10 members, including some team-mates. It was later leaked on social media. Donnelly admitted the charge of distributing the image at Belfast Magistrates Court on November 23.

The following day he played in a fixture against Linfield. It is unclear whether Cliftonville knew of the guilty plea at that time. He has not played since.

Yesterday family members wept in court as Judge David McFarland ordered Donnelly to be taken down from the dock.

Afterwards Donnelly apologised to his victim. In a statement issued by his solicitor, he said he accepted the court's decision. Cliftonville FC said it "noted the final judgment in court proceedings". It added: "The club's management committee will now take cognisance of the final judgment, related matters, the input of relevant bodies and will follow the required club disciplinary procedures.

"We wish to reiterate, as outlined in previous statements, that Cliftonville FC recognises the impact that this has had on the victim and her family. We condemn such actions without question."

The club has not expanded on what the disciplinary process will entail, and refused to respond to a series of questions from this newspaper on its handling of the affair.

Cliftonville's official response was described as inadequate by the Belfast Feminist Network. It said: "This statement is very much in keeping with the inability of Cliftonville Football Club to really grasp the seriousness of what has happened. They have let down their fans and the wider community by not taking decisive action."

It added the sentence cannot be ignored by his employers.

It said: "Cliftonville have known about Donnelly's guilt for some time as he entered a guilty plea last November, and robust disciplinary action would be appropriate."

The growing calls for Cliftonville to take disciplinary action came as the Irish Football Association launched an investigation into whether Donnelly has brought the game into disrepute.

The prison term was welcomed by children's charity the NSPCC, with it saying the sentence reflected the "seriousness" of the offence.

Meanwhile, two of Cliftonville's main commercial sponsors - Fonacab and Sean Graham Bookmakers - did not respond to requests for a comment on the issue.

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