Meet the President of the Irish Rugby Football Union
Stephen R Hilditch, an Honorary Life member of Grosvenor RFC, Belfast was elected as the 129th President of the Irish Rugby Football Union at the annual Council meeting, which took place in the Aviva Stadium on July 15th, 2016.
One of Ireland’s most eminent international referees, the retired schoolteacher is the first member of Grosvenor RFC to be elected to the highest office in Irish rugby after a distinguished contribution to the affairs of the Ulster Branch and IRFU over a period of almost 30 years.
Following early retirement forced by chronic back injury as a player with Larne RFC, Stephen turned to refereeing and in a celebrated career he was selected for 18 Test matches and over 40 touch judge appointments. This included participation in the 1987, ’91 and ’95 Rugby World Cup tournaments and highlighted by taking charge of the New Zealand V. Scotland third/fourth place play off in 1991 and the semi final between England and New Zealand in 1995.
Stephen also refereed a number of Five Nations championship matches, including an infamous clash between France and England in Paris in 1992 where he sent two players off - both Frenchmen, prop Grégoire Lescubé and hooker Vincent Moscato.
President of the Ulster Society of Rugby Referees in 1999-2000, he was a member of the IRB International Referee Selection Panel between 2004 and 2011 and was the IRFU’s representative on FIRA (now Rugby Europe) from 2005 to 2015. He was awarded an MBE for services to refereeing in 1994.
Appointed to the Ulster Branch in 1987, he was Chairman of the Schools Committee for a 10 years period and was also a member of the Finance Committee (2004-2015) and the Management Committee (2005-2015) and was elected President of the Ulster Branch in 2003-2004.
Joining the IRFU Committee in 2004, he has since held a number of key positions. He was as a member of the IRFU’s Management Committee between 2009 and 2015, Chairman of the Rugby Standing Committee (formerly the Domestic Game Committee), Chairman of the Referees and Women’s sub-committees and he also sat on the Finance, Schools, Strategic planning and Laws Advisory sub committees.
A member of the Sports Council of Northern Ireland and vice Chairman for a four year period, Stephen’s distinguished career as a schoolteacher included appointments as head of the Physics Department in Grosvenor Grammar School (1968-1983), vice Principal of Wallace High School (1983-1987) and headmaster of Belfast High School between 1987 and 2006. Married to Anne, he has two sons, Peter and Andrew.
Message from Stephen Hilditch, President, Irish Rugby Football Union, to Cork Constitution FC:
It is my privilege as President of the Irish Rugby Football Union to outline my best wishes to Cork Constitution FC on the occasion of the club’s 125th Anniversary season.
In congratulating Jerry Holland on his election as club President for this special landmark, it is my fervent hope that it is marked with further success and enjoyment from your celebratory programme, which has been launched by your pre season tour to Canada.
I am also delighted to pay tribute to legendary members, Tom Kiernan, now retired as a Trustee of the Union, and Noel Murphy, also a former Union President. I also acknowledge Greg Barrett as a current member of the IRFU Committee.
Following the club’s phenomenal success last season and the award as “Munster Club of the Year’’, I have no doubts about your 1st XV’s ambitions for this season’s 27th staging of the Ulster Bank League, for which the IRFU advise clubs of some new initiatives, having considered feedback from senior clubs and responses to a player survey. Following its successful introduction last season, the remodeled structure of five divisions of 10 teams, playing home and away, culminating in promotional and relegation play-offs; will remain in place until at least the end of the 2017-‘18 season. Furthermore, so as to enhance the intensity of games in Division 1A and 1B, the number of fully contracted players in the match day panel may increase to a maximum of four, of which two can be forwards, and there will continue to be no restrictions on Development and Academy player participation.
These decisions are introduced in line with the Union’s desire to further develop the status and attractiveness of Ireland’s premier inter-club championship. Bear in mind that it is our collective determination that our club game endures as the bedrock of Irish rugby. Naturally, the professional game is the shop window, but your Union Committee is steadfast in its resolve that the grassroots will always be the spine.
To that end the IRFU has allocated a further €1.2 million Euros to the domestic game for the 2016-’17 season. This brings the total investment in grassroots rugby to over €10 million Euros, representing a 23% increase in the domestic game budget since 2015.
In a further boost for clubs, the Union is delighted that again this season it will put in place the popular Your Club Your Country Grand Draw, in association with Ulster Bank. Last season the programme raised €580,000 Euros for the 137 clubs who participated, bringing to over €3 million Euros the amount raised by clubs across the Island.
On behalf of the IRFU, I also warmly acknowledge Ulster Bank for their greatly appreciated partnership in the IRFU’s Community rugby programme. Its wide and popular activities, of which the Ulster Bank League is a key element, also includes sponsorship of the Ulster Bank Bateman Cup; the Irish Club international team; the Ulster Bank League Awards, plus the Ulster Bank RugbyForce initiative, the Community volunteer project which helps rugby clubs to improve their facilities.
Meantime, best wishes to all at Temple Hill.
President – Irish Rugby Football Union