Standing ovation in Dáil for Natasha O’Brien for bravery in ‘speaking up’

Taoiseach says it is ‘utterly unacceptable’ he does not know how many Defence Forces personnel have criminal convictions

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl has told Natasha O'Brien that TDs are "on her side" as she received a standing ovation from Dáil Éireann. Video: Oireachtas TV

TDs rose in the Dáil to give a standing ovation to Natasha O’Brien, who spoke out about the fully suspended sentence for a serving solder who beat her unconscious.

Ms O’Brien was in the public gallery as her case, gender-based violence and the response of the Defence Forces in dealing with personnel convicted of criminal offences dominated Leaders’ Questions on Tuesday.

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.

Addressing questions about serving soldiers convicted for violence, Taoiseach Simon Harris said it was “utterly unacceptable that I have to stand here as Taoiseach of this country and cannot answer the question, how many people with criminal convictions in the Defence Forces today?”


He added: “If you’re convicted of a criminal offence in the Defence Forces, get out of it.”

Mr Harris 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”.

Ms McDonald said: “We have a judicial system, Defence Forces, a political system and a society that is failing to confront violence against women and that fails us all.”

The Sinn Féin leader, who informed the House that Ms O’Brien was in the public gallery, said: “We need urgent action to address this epidemic of violence against women across society so that there is truly zero tolerance for such crimes.”

Addressing Ms O’Brien, the Taoiseach said: “I do want to meet with you. And I do need to wait for the legal proceedings window to close.”

Ms O’Brien had shown incredible bravery in speaking out, he said. “And the fact that you were horrifically attacked when you yourself were standing up against homophobia is really a testament to your character and adds to the sense of brutality you encountered.”

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said there were questions for the Judicial Council, which was set up in 2019 and tasked with issuing sentencing guidelines. Five years later “we are still waiting for any guidelines to be issued”.

The Taoiseach said he understood that the “first set of sentencing guidelines is likely to be in the area of domestic violence and we will be seeking an update in terms of a timeline for them”.

Former Army Ranger and Independent TD Cathal Berry said the Defence Forces “have been screaming for changes in Defence Forces regulations. They’re looking for powers of suspension, powers of dismissal for gross misconduct, but they’ve had silence from successive governments.

Mr Harris said he would liaise with Tánaiste Micheál Martin on the regulations but “we have to use the last few days as a very serious wake-up call to ensure zero tolerance is embedded in everything we do, including in the Defence Forces”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times