Editor's Viewpoint: Club needs to make its intentions clear
Cliftonville footballer Jay Donnelly is today beginning his three month jail sentence for sharing an indecent image of him having sex with a 16-year-old girl. He had appealed against the original sentence of four months and yesterday a judge reduced it by a month, but refused to suspend the term.
The judge said the offence required a deterrent sentence and pointed out that the image had been circulated on the internet, would never disappear and would have a lasting impact on the girl.
While it is accepted that Donnelly pleaded guilty to the offence and has expressed remorse, most people will agree that he deserves the jail term. The girl has had to endure ongoing pain and embarrassment as a result of the image being made public, even if Donnelly had just circulated it to a small group of friends.
What most people now want to see is what action Cliftonville football club will take. It has issued a statement, but it does not go anywhere near answering this central question.
Donnelly pleaded guilty to the offence last November. Before that, the club was rightly constrained from taking any action beyond suspension as any person charged with an offence is presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, that all changed with the guilty plea.
At that stage, many people will agree, the club should have ended Donnelly's contract with the team.
Cliftonville has a large following and has extensive outreach, youth and women's football programmes and it has a duty to make it clear to all those associated with the club that it will take action against those guilty of serious offences, especially those which merit jail terms.
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In its statement, Cliftonville says it recognises the impact the actions of Donnelly have had on the girl and her family and condemns those actions without question.
Given that unequivocal condemnation of what Donnelly did, many people will wonder why the club did not follow the actions of English club Sunderland, when one of its players was fired after he pleaded guilty to offences against a 15-year-old female fan.
The silence of Cliftonville's main sponsors when approached by this newspaper yesterday is puzzling.
How do they view this case and do they believe the player should have his contract ended? Will they continue to sponsor the team? Those questions may be answered in time, but the sooner the better.