Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Why Jackson and Olding should never represent Ireland again

The rallies speak for themselves. The way Jackson and Olding degraded women in their group chat means they are beyond the pale for many of us.

By Suzanne Breen

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding should never play rugby for Ulster or Ireland again. If they are allowed to put on the jersey for either province or country, it will be an unforgivable insult to women across this island.

They were unanimously acquitted of rape by a jury last Wednesday but their vile misogynist social media messages should prevent them from resuming their careers.

I couldn’t care less how many women the “top shaggers” have sex with every week or indeed every day if they so choose. That is nobody’s business but their own.

But the respect they show for other human beings is an area of legitimate public concern. These men and their mates spoke about women in the most derogatory way possible.

The now notorious WhatsApp messages referred to females as “sluts” and “brasses”, and there are jokes about “spit-roasting”, the sexual slang that has its origins in an animal being impaled on a metal rod and cooked.  A woman as a piece of meat.

Ach, it’s only a bit of banter, the apologists say. Sorry, if they were talking about black, Muslim or Jewish people in such denigrating terms would it be deemed okay? Damned right it wouldn’t.

If the men were returning to jobs away from the public eye that would be a different matter. But in their roles they are centre-stage. Rugby presents itself as a family sport. Jackson and Olding aren’t fit to be ambassadors for Ulster and Ireland.

The protests in Belfast, Dublin, Derry, Cork, Waterford, Galway and Limerick send a clear message to rugby bosses as they contemplate their futures.

Olding — whilst insisting he committed no criminal offence and the sex was consensual — had the decency to say he deeply regretted what transpired on that fateful night of June 28, 2016. 

In a statement read out by his solicitor Paul Dougan, he said: “I want to acknowledge that the complainant came to court and gave evidence about her perception of those events.

“I’m sorry for the hurt that was caused to the complainant. It was never my intention to cause any upset to anyone on that night.”

After a rape trial, this was the right tone from Olding and his legal team. It was dignified and showed empathy for the young woman at the heart of the case.

There was a touch of humility too.  Olding said he hoped to be able “to prove myself going forward in all aspects of my life”. He was admitting  that he had something to prove.

There were allegations from Paddy Jackson’s lawyers of “very apparent investigative bias” by police and a stinging attack on social media and in particular the “toxic content” on Twitter.

Reference was not made to the “toxic content” of the WhatsApp messages by Jackson and his pals.

And 48 hours later came warnings from his lawyers that action could be taken against people tweeting #IBelieveHer.  Social media is rightly subject to the same libel laws as mainstream media.

While taking legal action against defamatory statements made against Jackson is entirely understandable, people definitely shouldn’t be sued for tweeting #IBelieveHer.

It’s entirely possible to respect the jury’s not guilty verdict and to believe that the complainant told her truth.  The two are not mutually exclusive.

Surely it’s a human right for people to be able to express that they believe the young woman — so long as no defamatory comment is made about the rugby players?

Thousands and thousands of people tweeted #IBelieveHer. Trying to stop that hashtag will be like King Kanute and that famous tide.  Rather than killing it off, the opposite happened after the legal warning. #SueMePaddy trended on Twitter.

There is much about Twitter I loathe. It has been called the Wild West of social media where anything goes. But it’s utterly misguided to try to paint it as the root of all evil in the rugby rape case.

The complainant’s name was revealed to me before the case began and it wasn’t through social media. I was told her name, her father’s occupation, where she lived and where she had worked  — and Twitter wasn’t to blame.

There was plenty of toxicity outside of social media. I got into a taxi and listened to the driver waxing lyrical for the journey about “women who cry rape”. 

I talked to Christian men, who view sex before marriage as a sin, but didn’t raise an eyebrow about the sexual antics of “the lads” while pointing fingers galore at the complainant for entering Jackson’s bedroom.

My focus is far more on what went on inside Court 12 than the social media sideshow. This was a case where it wasn’t always clear who exactly was on trial.

Each defendant is rightly allowed their own legal representation.  But a 21-year-old woman being cross-examined by four defence barristers over eight days pulls at your heart-strings.

I’ve heard that gruelling experience being downplayed by explanations that some of those were half-days and she was offered breaks. 

I was once cross-examined by a single barrister for under an hour in a source protection case — a far less intrusive matter — and it was tough and nerve-wrecking.  And I was a professional journalist two decades older than the complainant.

The young woman failed to secure the verdict she desired. She did not win, yet she has certainly not lost. 

Her strength and spirit under cross-examination have inspired women to take to the streets and raise their voices for change. A heart of steel and unbowed head has galvanised many.  Shoulder to shoulder, together standing tall.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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