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Protests over sentence for assault by soldier


RTE Natasha O'Brien hugs a supporter at a rally in Limerick on SaturdayRTE

Natasha O’Brien hugs a supporter at a rally in Limerick on Saturday

Protests have been held in four cities in the Republic of Ireland after a serving soldier was given a suspended sentence for attacking a woman on a Limerick street.

Cathal Crotty, 22, punched 24-year-old Natasha O’Brien six times after she asked him to stop shouting homophobic abuse.

He later boasted about the incident on social media

Ms O’Brien, whose injuries included a broken nose, has criticised the Irish justice system after Crotty avoided prison.

On Saturday, protests in support of Ms O’Brien were held in Limerick, Cork, Dublin and Galway.

Joining about 500 protesters on Limerick’s Bedford Row, Ms O’Brien said: “I chose to speak up because I couldn’t imagine the impact on other victims.

“This is enough. This is the time for it to end. They [the Department of Justice] are not listening to us.”

Crotty was given a three-year suspended sentence on Thursday.

Referring to the sentence Ms O’Brien said: “What about me? What about my life? What about so many victims like me?”

‘Time and time again’

PA Media Dublin protestPA Media

A protest in support of Ms O’Brien was also held in Dublin

One of the speakers at the rally in Limerick was Edith Busteed of the socialist feminist movement ROSA.

“It’s happened time and time again,” she told Irish broadcaster RTÉ.

“We’ve organised so many protests with ROSA, but this is a systematic issue, systematic gender-based violence and it’s constantly justified, especially in the Irish court system and justice system

“The survivor of this attack deserves justice, so we’re here today to advocate for that.”

‘It’s not justice’

Testifying during the court case, Ms O’Brien said she had suffered nightmares and panic attacks.

The judge described the attack as a “cowardly, vicious, unprovoked” assault.

However, he said the defendant “must be given credit” for his guilty plea and told the court he had “no doubt” that if Crotty was jailed his army career is over.

Speaking outside court on Thursday, Ms O’Brien said: “It’s not justice.”

She added that Crotty had taken a pledge, when he joined the Irish Defence Forces, to “protect the citizens and civilians of Ireland”.

Ms O’Brien told BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra programme on Friday that she would not have gone into court “if it had just been about me”.

“I was really, really, hoping that I would have been able to set a good example, that when you do something bad you get consequences for it – and instead our system has shown that it is broken,” she added.

Brendan Gleeson Natasha O'BrienBrendan Gleeson

Natasha O’Brien was attacked by Cathal Crotty in Limerick in May 2022

Ms O’Brien, who was not known to her attacker, said she wanted to come forward to “use her voice” because so many women have been “traumatised”.

“This is not just this man, this is many, many, many, young people in Ireland that carry on like this, and there was really no justice,” she added.

Irish Justice Minister Helen McEntee has praised Ms O’Brien’s bravery in coming forward, adding that prosecutors in the Republic of Ireland can lodge an appeal against the sentence.

Ms O’Brien said on Friday that an appeal was “the least of our concerns”.

She said she wanted to see cultural and legal change.

“The concern for me is the allowance of this to ever have happened,” she said.

“What is happening with the Irish Defence Forces? What’s going on with the system of justice? Why are they failing victims?”

RTE Protesters at a rally in Galway on SaturdayRTE

Protesters at a rally in Galway on Saturday

‘Gender violence issue within force’

Former Irish Army officer Tom Clonan, who is a senator in the upper house of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) said that the Irish Defence Forces has an issue when it comes to gender-based violence.

However, he added, every private and public organisation or institution will have people within their ranks who are capable of committing violent acts.

The Irish Defence Forces said in a statement on Friday it had begun internal proceedings following the soldier’s conviction.

It said it “unequivocally condemns any actions by serving personnel that are contrary to or do not reflect our values”.

It also praised “the bravery of the victim”.

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