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‘So many other victims like me’ – Natasha O’Brien addresses supporters as thousands protest over attacker’s suspended sentence



‘So many other victims like me’ – Natasha O’Brien addresses supporters as thousands protest over attacker’s suspended sentence

Thousands of people attended events in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick after Cathal Crotty, a serving member of the Defence Forces, walked free from court when he was given a three-year suspended sentence for attacking Natasha O’Brien.

The 22-year-old, with an address at Parkroe Heights, Ardnacrusha, Co Clare, pleaded guilty to assaulting Ms O’Brien in Limerick in 2022.

Ms O’Brien (24) has criticised the three-year suspended sentence handed down to Crotty, saying she feels let down by the judicial system.

Natasha O’Brien speaking at the No Justice No Peace Rosa protest in Limerick

Ms O’Brien was cheered by attendees as she spoke with the aid of a megaphone at the protest in Limerick city.

“I’d like to say I’m absolutely overwhelmed by your solidarity and your support and without your rage your outrage your fear your horror this would not have been looked at,” she told the crowd.

“And what happened to me has happened to so many – the absolute injustice of the Department of Justice.

“What happened to me was horrific, I experienced an extremely violent assault, at the hands of a soldier in the Irish Defence Forces. They are supposed to protect us.

“It is one thing to be subject to a violent and heinous crime at the hands of a man that is pledged to protect the citizens of Ireland but it is another thing when the Department of Justice and the Defence Forces overlook it and swish you away.”

In an impassioned address, she told thousands of protesters in the city centre: “I did not take that stand and face my attacker and put myself through that and bare my soul to Judge Tom O’Donnell…”

At this point dozens of supporters interrupted Ms O’Brien’s address, shouting out the word “Shame!” before she resumed:

“…to be told he’s happy he took the guilty plea, that I should be happy he [Crotty] said sorry because he was caught.”

She added: “And to be told that had he received a custodial sentence it would have impacted his career in the Defence Forces.

“What about me, what about my life, what about so many victims like me?”

Ms O’Brien marched through the city with other protesters and organisers led them in a chant: “One, two, three, four, we won’t take it anymore. Five, six, seven, eight, no more violence, no more hate. Not the courts, not gardaí, we’re safe through solidarity.”

Natasha O’Brien marches at Limerick protest

Large crowds gathered in other cities on Saturday, with many criticising the suspended sentence.

Hundreds of people gathered at The Spire in Dublin city centre calling for an end to gender-based violence and for legal reforms in how the judicial system deals with gender-based crime.

Men, women and children of all ages carried placards calling for an end to victim blaming in courts and justice for Ms O’Brien and other victims of gender violence.

The demonstrators marched from The Spire on O’Connell street to the Department of Justice at St Stephen’s Green.

Ruth Coppinger, a spokesperson for the campaign group, Rosa, said the entire country is outraged by the court’s decision.

Natasha O’Brien speaking at the No Justice No Peace Rosa protest in Limerick

Attending the protest in Dublin, Ms Coppinger said: “He pleaded guilty to the most brutal assault on a young woman, beaten into unconsciousness with years long impact on her life, her job, her mental health, and was given a suspended sentence.

“His career was placed above the impact on her of the violence and that just says it all about the misogynistic rulings that we’re seeing in courts, to be honest, every day of the week, this is not unusual.

“We actually have to get that out there. These type of cases are a daily occurrence in the court.

“One in three rape cases ends in a partial or full suspended sentence. So this is not unusual.

“People may be reacting in a shocked way and I think that this has come to light because Natasha spoke out and probably because he’s in the army as well.

Marie Clynes, a retired teacher from Dublin, and Tristan McCall who travelled from Co Wicklow to attend the protest in Dublin on Saturday. Photo: Cate McCurry

“It has captured the imagination of people, but unfortunately, this is too regular an occurrence.

“Maybe let’s start by suspending a few judges who don’t understand the impact of violence against women or girls or LGBT plus people or in general on victims.

“We absolutely need dramatic change.”

Protesters march in solidarity with woman who was beaten unconscious by a soldier

Laura Fitzgerald, also from the Rosa organisation which organised the protests, said: “Women’s Aid this week reported the highest number of domestic violence disclosures in one year in 2023. That’s how wide spread domestic violence is.”

Campaigner and women’s rights activist Ailbhe Smyth said: “This will not be the only time that we will be standing here or marching through the streets of Dublin on the issue of violence against women.

“Quite frankly this is enough. We have had enough. We will absolutely not take anymore.

“We will not watch a young woman who has already been traumatised, injured who said I will not be the same again. How sad can that be.

“Her life was dragged through our courts but she was brave enough to stand up and say it must not happen again.”

People Before Profit TD Brid Smith said: “A few months ago I criticised a judge in the Dail and you would think the sky had fallen in.

“The Minister for Justice (Helen McEntee), the Ceann Comhairle, the Taoiseach all said ‘you can’t say that, you can’t criticise the judiciary’.

“I was dragged over the coals for it.

“To criticise a judge in this establishment is, to them, a mortal sin.

“They appoint them.

“And because they appoint the judges, we have to judge them and we will judge them at the next election and tell them they have had their day.”

Taoiseach Simon Harris was among those who praised Ms O’Brien for coming forward and speaking out after she was assaulted by Crotty.

Asked about the suspended sentence Crotty received, Mr Harris said: “I find myself precluded from being allowed to comment on the sentence of a court despite perhaps having quite a lot that I would have liked being able to say, other than let me say this – the legal process may not be concluded because it is absolutely always open to the DPP to appeal a sentence and also to appeal the leniency of a sentence.

“I need to be particularly careful in that context.

“But we are living in a country where there is still an epidemic of gender-based violence.”

In a statement on social media on Friday, the Irish Defence Forces said: “Any conviction in a civilian court may have implications for the retention and service of members of the Defence Forces, as stipulated in Defence Forces Regulations.

“Once due process has been completed in a civilian court of law, it becomes a matter for the relevant Defence Forces authorities in accordance with Defence Forces Regulations.

“We can confirm that these proceedings have commenced and as such, it would be inappropriate to comment further on this specific case.”

Crotty is now the subject of a disciplinary process by the Defence Forces which may result in him being dismissed.

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