Justice system puts ‘victim on trial’, says woman beaten unconscious by soldier

There is ‘far too much violence against women in our country’, says Taoiseach as he praises Natasha O’Brien for ‘speaking out’

Natasha O'Brien (24) was assaulted by serving Irish soldier Cathal Crotty (22), on May 29th, 2022. Photograph: Brendan Gleeson

A woman beaten unconscious by an Irish army private in a “vicious” and “unprovoked” assault in Limerick City says the Defence Forces should treat such an offence as grounds for immediate dismissal.

Natasha O’Brien (24), speaking after Cathal Crotty (22) received a fully suspended sentence for the assault, also called for a public debate on the rights of victims in the criminal justice system.

Taoiseach Simon Harris on Friday thanked Ms O’Brien “for coming forward, for standing up, for speaking out. I think that is really important and I would encourage any victim or survivor of violence, of gender based violence, to always come forward”.

Because of the separation of powers between the Government and the judiciary, the Taoiseach said he found himself “precluded from being allowed comment on the sentence of a court, despite perhaps having quite a lot that I would have liked to be able to say”.


However, speaking after a meeting of the British-Irish Council on the Isle of Man, he said: “Let’s be absolutely categorical [there is] far too much violence against women in our country. And I, as a Taoiseach, as a parent, as a father of a daughter, want to create a very different society for young women to grow up in.”

Speaking on Friday, Ms O’Brien said the justice system needed to change so that injured parties were represented by solicitors and barristers in criminal trials.

“It is 100 per cent something that should be opened up for discussion because the victim is put on trial and the defendant is represented.”

She pointed out she had no solicitor in court and Crotty had a solicitor and two barristers, while a senior member of the Defence Forces was also present in court in an observer role.

Crotty (22) from Ardnacrusha, Co Clare, on Friday evening remained a member of the Defence Forces at Sarsfield Barracks in the city. He walked free from court on Thursday after sentencing judge Tom O’Donnell gave him a suspended three-year jail term.

The judge said that when deciding Crotty’s sentence, he had to take into account his early guilty plea, his previous good character, and his apology to the victim, and the judge said an immediate sentence would certainly end Crotty’s army career.

‘He’s not stopping, I’m going to die’: Woman beaten by soldier condemns suspended sentenceOpens in new window ]

Crotty punched Ms O’Brien at least six times, knocking her unconscious on O’Connell Street, Limerick, on May 29th, 2022. He had shouted homophobic slurs at two men on the street and Ms O’Brien, who was walking home from a night shift at a local pub, had politely asked him not to call people names.

Crotty stopped punching Ms O’Brien on the ground after a passerby intervened, Limerick Circuit Criminal Court heard.

Crotty, who ran away, later bragged about the assault to friends on Snapchat, writing: “Two to put her down, two to put her out.”

Speaking on Friday, Ms O’Brien said, if there is any justice, Private Crotty would be dismissed from the army.

“There should be an immediate dismissal for any harm caused [by a soldier] to a civilian. It’s cause for an immediate dismissal – absolutely,” Ms O’Brien said.

Natasha O’Brien who was assaulted by Cathal Crotty in Limerick in May 2022, spoke to media after the serving soldier received a three-year suspended sentence.

Ms O’Brien said she was sick of reading cases whereby people were let out on the streets after committing violence.

“I am enraged for my nation more than for myself because this is much more bigger than me,” she said.

“I would like to see some true justice, I would like to see some effective change in the Dáil.

“I would like to demand some answers from the Minister for Justice as to what’s going on, in terms of the Department of Justice, and the failure of the [criminal justice] system to so many like myself.”

The Irish criminal justice system provides legal aid for the accused to pay for their solicitor and barristers. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), which brings prosecutions before the courts, represents The People of Ireland, and does not represent victims.

“This was a can of worms that needed to be let out ... That’s what I am trying to do,” she said.

Ms O’Brien added she had not considered taking a civil case against Mr Crotty for injuries.

Judge O’Donnell ordered Crotty to pay Ms O’Brien €3,000 compensation which he pledged to meet.

“I haven’t even considered a civil case because there has been no real justice, it isn’t over,” she said.

She hoped that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) would appeal Crotty’s sentence on the grounds that it was too lenient.

However, Ms O’Brien said legal sources had indicated to her that an appeal may be unlikely.

“It was explained to me that leniency appeals are only accepted in cases of extreme leniency and unfortunately it appears that under this justice system [Crotty’s sentence] actually wasn’t an extremely lenient sentence, and that’s my uproar, that’s my outrage, with the law.”

A statement released Thursday, by the Irish Defence Forces, read: “The Defence Forces commend the bravery of the victim in this case, and hope for her full recovery from the injuries sustained.”

“The Defence Forces unequivocally condemn any actions by serving personnel that are contrary to or do not reflect our values.”

“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.”

“As such it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time,” the statement concluded.

The Defence Forces initiated disciplinary proceedings against the soldier on Friday which may result in his dismissal.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is Ireland and Britain Editor with The Irish Times