Report on convicted criminals in Defence Forces identifies 20 cases of concern

Tánaiste Micheál Martin ordered review on the issue, with information previously held only at brigade level

Protesters gather outside Leinster House in solidarity with Natasha O'Brien who was attacked by Cathal Crotty, a serving member of the Defence Forces. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/PA Wire

A report on the prevalence of convicted criminals in the Defence Forces is understood to have identified 20 cases of concern.

On Sunday, Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Seán Clancy met his senior officers and demanded a list of all serving personnel with convictions or who are facing charges. The request was sent out to all Defence Forces brigades and formations.

The exercise was necessary as information on criminal convictions and pending cases is generally held at brigade level rather than at Defence Forces Headquarters.

The information was then analysed on Monday and Tuesday and the most serious cases were highlighted.

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The Chief of Staff was asked to provide Tánaiste Micheál Martin with a report on the issue.

The report is to be presented to Lieut Gen Clancy who will in turn present it to the Taoiseach, who has demanded a copy urgently.

The draft report is understood to have identified 20 “cases of concern” which have the potential to cause damage to the reputation of the Defence Forces, military sources said.

However, military sources stressed that some of these cases related to charges which had not been finalised yet and some related to cases where military discipline procedures were already in train. It is also not known if these cases relate exclusively to gender-based violence.

Earlier, Taoiseach Simon Harris told the Dáil that it was “utterly unacceptable” that he did not have full details of how many Defence Forces personnel had civilian criminal convictions.

He said it was “utterly unacceptable that I have to stand here as Taoiseach of this country and I cannot answer the question of how many people with criminal convictions are in the Defence Forces today. That is not acceptable to me. It is not acceptable to the Government. It should not be acceptable to anyone in this House.”

“If you are convicted of a criminal offence in the Defence Forces, you should get out of it,” Mr Harris said. He said he was “very proud of many of the men and women who serve in our Defence Forces” and “they serve with distinction at home and abroad”.

“We all agree with that across this House, but we are all aware that the Defence Forces can be brought into disrepute by the actions of a small number. It also runs the risk of being brought into disrepute by the inaction of others.”

He made the comments in the Dáil as Natasha O’Brien, who spoke out about the fully suspended sentence that was given to a serving solder who beat her unconscious, watched on from the public gallery.

Cathal Crotty (22), a serving Irish soldier, beat Natasha O’Brien (24) unconscious to the point that she believed she was going to be killed. Crotty later boasted about the attack on social media. Crotty, with an address at Parkroe Heights, Ardnacrusha, Co Clare, pleaded guilty to assaulting Ms O’Brien in Limerick in 2022. He was given a three-year suspended sentence.

The Taoiseach told Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who had raised Ms O’Brien’s case, that he was constrained by what he could say but the legal process may not be finished in relation to the case and “in a broad sense it’s open to the DPP to appeal any sentence”.

TDs then rose in the Dáil to give a standing ovation to Ms O’Brien, with Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghail telling her: “We are on your side.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times