A large group of prominent figures in Irish women's rugby put their names to a letter written to the Government which says they have "lost all trust and confidence in the IRFU and its leadership after historic failings".
Cliodhna Moloney, Sene Naoupu, Linda Djougang, Eimear Considine - who are all all still playing - Fiona Coghlan, Lynne Cantwell, Claire Molloy, Alison Miller and Ciara Griffin are among the signatories on the letter which implores Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers and Minister for Sport Catherine Martin to step in and incite "meaningful change".
The group asked the ministers to meet with the IRFU and nail in guarantees of change; to request oversight of the ongoing reviews; and to help guarantee the findings are transparent and ensure that they maintain their independence.
The ministers have replied to the players to let them know they have sought a meeting with the IRFU to discuss the issues raised and have also requested that Sport Ireland engage with the players, while informing them that they are available to meet with them directly.
"That letter is being considered with the upmost seriousness, particularly in the context of the leadership that the players have shown in recent years in driving the game forward," said the department.
"The Ministers have written to the players to let them know they have sought a meeting with the IRFU to discuss the issues raised by the players. They have also requested that Sport Ireland engage with the players.
"The Ministers advised the players they will be happy to meet directly with them also."
There has been a huge backlash to an interview Ireland's director of women's rugby Anthony Eddy conducted last month in which he said it is "incorrect" to suggest that the IRFU have neglected the 15-a-side game in favour of the sevens program.
Ireland missed out on qualification for next year's Rugby World Cup, a desperately disappointing failure that has raised serious questions about the direction the women's game is going in this country.
"Many of us have been part of previous attempts via private intervention to work constructively with the IRFU to help them to understand how the players have felt over many years and to support them to make changes which would create the right environment for women's rugby at all levels to thrive," the letter reads.
"These have failed and so we feel we have to resort to requesting your help and to publishing this letter.
"We have always believed that with the right structures, processes and support that Ireland could become a leading women’s rugby nation, providing opportunities for everyone at all levels, and even with all of the recent challenges, we are certain that with your support we can come out of this better and stronger."
The letter in full:
We write to you as a deeply discouraged group of current and former Irish women's rugby players having sadly lost all trust and confidence in the IRFU and its leadership after historic failings.
The aim of this letter is to seek your support now to enable meaningful change for all levels of the women’s game in Ireland from grassroots to green shirts.
We write in the wake of a series of recent disappointments for the international team, on and off the field, but ultimately recent events simply reflect multiple cycles of substandard commitment from the union, inequitable and untrustworthy leadership, a lack of transparency in the governance and operation of the women’s game both domestically and at international level, and an overall total lack of ambition about what it could achieve.
In 2014, the Irish XV team finished the season ranked fourth in the world, having won a Six Nations Grand Slam the year before. This triggered the beginning of a new World Cup cycle and new leadership within Irish rugby with David Nucifora and Anthony Eddy overseeing the women’s programme.
The end of this cycle ended in bitter disappointment as the team finished eighth in their home World Cup in 2017, crashing out in the pool stages.
In response, the IRFU produced an action plan for the game with a number of high level targets. However we find ourselves at the end of 2021 with those plans in disarray and with a large majority of those targets missed, including the XV team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup and the sevens team’s failure to qualify for the Olympics.
Notwithstanding the challenges of the pandemic, these facts represent significant failure.
This is not just a recent issue. At the end of every World Cup cycle in the Irish women’s game, there has been a review.
None of these reviews have ever been made public, with the IRFU cherry picking a handful of findings to present to the public. Many of us have felt that the range of stakeholders asked to take part in these reviews have not always reliably represented the game well enough to capture accurate, independent data and insight - neither do all of us feel fully confident that the information submitted has been factual and designed to act in the best interest of the women’s game.
There are now two ongoing reviews – one into the failure to qualify for the World Cup, and a second looking at the implementation of the current 'Women in Rugby Action Plan’ which was due to run till 2023 and which covers all aspects of the game across Ireland.
Despite there being well-qualified independent leads running these, we have no faith that in the end that these will do anything significantly different to all those which have gone before and therefore the overarching objective of this letter is to ask for your help to intervene in these processes to make them genuinely transparent and meaningful.
A large group of current players, including some who have recently retired, have collectively submitted a more detailed overview for the World Cup Qualifier review, which we are happy to privately share with you.
This gives greater context to some of the current disillusionment but there is a wider and historic element to all of this and that is why we are asking for your support with the following.
- We ask that you meet with the IRFU to confirm appropriate guarantees of meaningful change so the women’s game can move forward positively.
- We ask that you request oversight of the ongoing reviews; help guarantee the findings are transparent and help ensure that they maintain their independence.
- We ask for your support in gaining assurances that both the findings and the recommendations of these reviews will be made fully available to the players and that relevant details and full recommendations are published publicly and following that, that leadership with the necessary authority and appropriate governance is put in place alongside a serious action plan and new targets to help move the game forward.
Unresolved, the many challenges facing the women’s game at all levels have the potential to have a significant knock-on effect not just at the top end but also on the grassroots game. There are increasing numbers of young girls taking up rugby across Ireland but the IRFU’s failure to create meaningful pathways significantly impacts the quality of the system and structures these community players are experiencing.
All of this is happening at a time when women's rugby around the world is on a massive upward trajectory. Playing numbers, TV audiences, crowds and investments are on the rise but we fear Ireland will be left further and further behind and the opportunity for growth will disappear at a time when surely we ought to be promoting as many sporting opportunities for women and girls across the country as possible.
We appreciate that your roles oversee all sport across the country and these are specific issues, but we have tried to work constructively with the IRFU for decades and much of the same problems persist.
Many of us have been part of previous attempts via private intervention to work constructively with the IRFU to help them to understand how the players have felt over many years and to support them to make changes which would create the right environment for women’s rugby at all levels to thrive. These have failed and so we feel we have to resort to requesting your help and to publishing this letter.
We want to make clear that a small number of current players who either work for the IRFU or have playing contracts with them were not asked to sign this letter, for obvious reasons.
We have always believed that with the right structures, processes and support that Ireland could become a leading women’s rugby nation, providing opportunities for everyone at all levels, and even with all of the recent challenges, we are certain that with your support we can come out of this better and stronger.
We thank you for your ongoing support
1. Ciara Griffin
2. Lynne Cantwell
3. Fiona Coghlan
4. Grace Davitt
5. Claire Molloy
6. Paula Fitzpatrick
7. Mairead Kelly
8. Laura Guest
9. Ailish Eagn
10. Lauren Day
11. Allison Miller
12. Marie Louise Reilly
13. Jen Murphy
14. Heather O’Brien
15. Deirdre O’Brien
16. Shannon Houston
17. Ruth O’Reilly
18. Nikki Caughey
19. Stacey Lee Kennedy
20. Jackie Sheils
21. Orla Fitzsimons
22. Sharon Lynch
23. Siobhan Fleming
24. Sarah Mimnagh
25. Mairead Coyne
26. Fiona Reidy
27. Nicole Fowley
28. Ilse Van Staden
29. Alisa Hughes
30. Anna Caplice
31. Louise Galvin
32. Laura Feely
33. Edel McMahon
34. Michelle Claffey
35. Aoife McDermott
36. Cliodhna Moloney
37. Lindsay Peat
38. Ciara Cooney
39. Leah Lyons
40. Chloe Pearse
41. Nichola Fryday
42. Sene Naoupu
43. Laura Sheehan
44. Lauren Delany
45. Emma Hooban
46. Ellen Murphy
47. Anne-Marie O’Hora
48. Kathryn Dane
49. Judy Bobett
50. Neve Jones
51. Katie O’Dwyer
52. Aoife Doyle
53. Hannah O’Connor
54. Eimear Considine
55. Victoria Dabonovich O’Mahony
56. Shannon Touhy
57. Catherine Buggy
58. Sam Monaghan
59. Hannah Tyrell