Mediahuis Ireland, publisher of Independent.ie, has decided to end the contract of Neil Francis, the former Irish international turned analyst and columnist for the organisation, following comments he made about the colour of Marcus Smith's skin.
Francis made the comments about the Harlequins, England and Lions outhalf Smith on Independent.ie's The Left Wing podcast, which both Harlequins and the Lions described as offensive.
A spokesperson for Mediahuis Ireland said: “Neil Francis’s remarks were unacceptable and he has apologised for them. The comments were initially released in the podcast last week but were subsequently removed by our production team a short time later. This should have happened before it was released and we apologise for the error.
“We acknowledge that Mr Francis says his comments were inadvertent but we have decided to end our relationship with him and he will no longer write columns or contribute to our podcasts.”
Francis issued a statement in which he apologised. "During a podcast for The Left Wing recorded on Wednesday the 14th of July I made comments about the Harlequins and England out-half Marcus Smith where I stated that he had 'a David Beckham hair style and an Oompa Loompa tan'.
“I was, I suppose making comment on how backs in particular turn out when they enter the field. At all stages this is what I meant by those comments.
“Marcus Smith is of English/ Filipino heritage and some of the media comments at the moment have made mention that I have racially abused the player.
“I would never intentionally or wilfully make a comment to disparage somebody on the basis of the colour of anyone’s skin. Never! The comments have been interpreted differently from what I intended and I apologise sincerely for that.
“I fully apologise for any offence taken by the player and his family. I intend to apologise directly to him shortly if he is agreeable. I also apologise to anyone who also took offence to what I said.”
An earlier statement from Harlequins rugby club read: “Harlequins is disgusted by racist comments made by Independent.ie columnist Neil Francis on the publication’s rugby podcast, The Left Wing, on July 14 about Harlequins, England, and British and Irish Lions fly-half Marcus Smith.
“The Club firmly believes that there is no room for racism in any part of society, let alone professional sport. Harlequins await a written reply from The Independent.ie regarding this matter.”
Lions spokesperson Tim Percival earlier wrote on Twitter: "We find the remarks offensive and have written to the Independent to express our deep dissatisfaction."
The Connacht and Irish outhalf Jack Carty, who is an ambassador for the Rugby Players of Ireland Tackle Your Feelings campaign, wrote on twitter: "What a disgrace to see comments made about the colour of a player's skin, in addition to previous homophobic and xenophobic comments that I've read in the past. All of which have no place in our game nor in our wider society for that matter."