The Irish Times view on violence against women: a pattern of leniency

Too many violent abusers are leaving the courts as free men

Natasha O'Brien Natasha O'Brien, 24 , outside Limerick Circuit Criminal Court, who was attacked by Serving Member Irish Defence Forces Soilder, Cathal Crotty, 22, Parkroe Heights, Ardnacrusha Co Clare, in an Unprovoked and random Assault in Limerick City on May 29 2022 . The Court Imposed a three Year Fully Suspended on Mr Crotty Picture Brendan Gleeson

It remains to be seen how events finally unfold in the wake of last week’s conviction and sentencing of Army private Cathal Crotty for his violent and unprovoked assault on Natasha O’Brien in 2019 in Limerick city centre. But the consequences of the suspended sentence which Crotty received, and the widespread anger it has sparked, could be profound. Many will hope that proves to be the case, although the dispiriting record of some State bodies on the issue of gendered violence will provoke some understandable scepticism.

In the short term, disciplinary proceedings are under way which could lead to Crotty’s dismissal from the Defence Forces, and the office of the Director for Public Prosecutions will decide whether to appeal the leniency of the sentence given by Judge Tom O’Donnell. Both processes must be left to run their respective courses. But they will not halt the debate on the broader questions that have been raised. Nor will they stem the justified criticism of both the legal system and the military authorities.

It is clear from court records that there is a disturbing pattern of leniency when it comes to imposing custodial sentences on men who violently assault women. A number of contributory factors are at play, including the weight given to a guilty plea, a concern that a prison sentence could have a negative impact on the accused’s job and career prospects, and the fact that some perpetrators have no prior convictions. In principle, these are all reasonable considerations to take into account as mitigation when sentencing; in practice they have given rise to too many violent abusers leaving the court as free men. That is unacceptable and it is unsurprising that many also see evidence of class and gender bias in those outcomes.

That perception will be echoed in the case of the Defence Forces. In the same week that a tribunal begins its investigations into accusations of sexual abuse and discrimination within its ranks, questions have now been raised about its sluggish approach to serving members who have been convicted of gendered violence. Reports that a meeting of senior officers was hastily convened over the weekend to address the issue will do little to inspire confidence. Nor will suggestions that a number of convicted individuals have been allowed to remain within the organisation.


Within a few days, Natasha O’Brien has emerged as an impressive advocate for reform, touching a nerve with thousands across the country. She has described the imbalance of power that victims feel in court and has articulated her justified anger at last week’s events, calling for systemic change. She deserves great credit but she should never have found herself placed in this position by a system and structures that too often still appear wilfully blind to violence against women. Her voice must be heard.