Cliftonville Football Club in Belfast has said it will not respond with "a knee-jerk action" after striker Jay Donnelly was convicted of distributing an indecent image of a child.
It emerged on November 28th that the 23-year-old had pleaded guilty on November 23rd to one charge of “distributing or showing an indecent image of a child”.
A separate count of taking or making an indecent photograph was withdrawn. He will be sentenced early in 2019.
Donnelly, who has continued to play for the Irish Premiership side since the allegations relating to a date in 2016 emerged, played a game for the north Belfast club on November 24th against Linfield.
However, he was dropped for a game against Dungannon Swifts on Saturday after public outrage related to the matter.
The Belfast Feminist Network (BFN) cancelled a planned protest outside the club after Cliftonville confirmed, following discussions with "all parties and Jay Donnelly", that he would not play in the match.
In a public statement to supporters on Friday, the club said it was dealing with “a very sensitive and delicate matter in relation to Jay Donnelly”, and that legal advice it received was not to comment further at this time.
Then on Saturday, the club issued a further statement saying “the player himself accepts he must atone”.
“Cliftonville Football Club is acutely aware that a young woman has suffered because of Jay Donnelly’s actions. The club feels it has a duty of care to everyone associated at this moment in time.”
The club then appealed to fans and the media to “bear with us as we seek a considered resolution”.
“Please be assured that Cliftonville FC will take strong action to protect the good name of the club and our supporters, but we are also mindful not to take knee-jerk action that could impact negatively on any injured parties.”
The Cliftonville statement indicated it welcomed dialogue with those who can offer guidance on how to handle this matter and that it hoped to offer education programmes to all players, at all levels, in the future.
“The courts will deliberate before delivering justice, as will Cliftonville Football Club.”
BFN has said it is “disgusted” Jay Donnelly was not suspended after he was charged, and described him being selected to play after pleading guilty as “a total insult to every victim of the kind of exploitative crime” he has been convicted for.
BFN is calling for Cliftonville to outline what actions will be taken to “stamp out misogyny” and ensure all players are educated on sexual consent and other matters.
It also says the club “could go further” than Saturday’s statement by explaining what will happen next.