Irish rugby has to deal with “disrespectful and derogatory” behaviour of role models if it wants to be seen as embodying the best spirit of Ireland, a leading rape campaigner has said.
Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said it is a "shame and a pity" that some people are calling for an end to the continuing controversy over the rugby rape trial.
The human rights lawyer said there was a “whole lot of moral harm” that has yet to be addressed amid the fall-out from the high profile case and that a full examination was needed of the behaviour of role models.
“Here is the opportunity for all of us to grow a respect for each other, to build a better understanding of how young men talk about themselves and young women,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
“Therefore, it is not something that can just be glossed over and it is a shame and a pity that some people are saying it is all over over, let’s get on with it.”
Ms Blackwell acknowledged Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson were "absolutely acquitted" of all charges against them after the nine-week trial at Belfast's Laganside Court.
But she said the players behaviour “in terms of their texting, their behaviour the following day, their failure to look out for a young distressed woman, the way they talked about other young women, is not something that has gone away.
“There is a whole lot of moral harm that has to be addressed in those texts,” she said.
“Rugby doesn’t want to be just a game played on the pitch, rugby wants to be seen as something that embodies the best spirit of Ireland - that sure didn’t show up in the behaviour the day after the events, as the players themselves have acknowledged.
“It has to be addressed, because rugby surely is bigger than that kind of behaviour.”
Ms Blackwell was responding to calls from former Ireland rugby international Willie John McBride and others for the reinstatement of Mr Olding and Mr Jackson after they were found not guilty raping a 19-year-old woman in south Belfast in June 2016.
Both men have been "relieved of all duties" with Ulster and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) since the legal process began. After the trial concluded, the IRFU and Ulster said they had noted the verdicts and an internal review was being conducted.
Mr McBride, who captained Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, described the incident as a “very sad affair”, adding: “Ultimately alcohol was at the base of all this.”
But Ms Blackwell said “there has to be more to it that a drunken night out”.
“What happened is that some of the most prominent rugby players in this country were seen and have acknowledged the most disrespectful and derogatory behaviour towards a young woman and other young women,” she said.
“There has to be a real examination of their disrespectful and derogatory behaviour in order to identify what they as role models, people who are held up as the best in the land, would think of women, as was shown in the WhatsApp texts, in a way that they themselves recognise were hurtful and harmful.
“It has to be looked at not just in the context of what they said that night, but whether that it is a way of operating within rugby, that rugby condones or allows to happen.”