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Soldier assault victim tells politicians ‘do your job’ to tackle gender violence

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A woman who was assaulted by a serving Irish soldier has told a solidarity rally in Dublin that she will keep the pressure on politicians to take action on tackling violence against women.

Natasha O’Brien, 24, told political leaders and the Irish Defence Forces to “do your jobs” and address the issues around gender-based crimes.

The Limerick woman earlier watched from the public gallery of the Dail parliament as politicians discussed the controversial case.

At one point, TDs on all sides of the house rose to give her a standing ovation.

Natasha O’Brien (left) addresses protesters outside Leinster House in Dublin (Gareth Chaney/PA)
Natasha O’Brien (left) addresses protesters outside Leinster House in Dublin (Gareth Chaney/PA)

Later on Tuesday, hundreds attended the demonstration outside the parliament at Leinster House.

Thousands attended similar rallies across Ireland at the weekend.

Ms O’Brien told Tuesday evening’s event: “I sat up in the public gallery, I was looking down at the Taoiseach (Simon Harris) and the Minister for Justice (Helen McEntee), and (thought) ‘What are you going to do, what are you going to do? I’m right here’.

“I’m going to keep doing that and they’re going to feel the pressure.”

Ms O’Brien said she felt a “little bit hopeful” after receiving so much support and said she believed she had found a “purpose” in speaking up.

“I am not the first by a long way to speak up, and I know I’m not going to be the last, but if I can achieve anything with what I am doing right now it is to make it easier for the next person that something heinous and violent might happen to,” she said.

Commenting on the standing ovation she received in the Dail, Ms O’Brien added: “I was honoured, it was incredible, however, you know, your applauses are amazing, but let’s use those applauses and let’s actually do something and do your job.”

Earlier, Mr Harris warned the Irish Defence Forces that there should be no place in the military for personnel with criminal convictions.

Mr Harris issued the stark message to commanders after making clear he was not satisfied with how they had handled the fallout from the case.

The Taoiseach demanded to know if there are other members of the military who are “hiding with convictions” for domestic, sexual or gender-based violence.

Taoiseach Simon Harris at Government Buildings in Dublin (Gareth Chaney/PA)
Taoiseach Simon Harris at Government Buildings in Dublin (Gareth Chaney/PA)

Cathal Crotty, a serving member of the Defence Forces, walked free from court last week when he was given a three-year suspended sentence for attacking Ms O’Brien.

The 22-year-old soldier, with an address at Parkroe Heights, Ardnacrusha, Co Clare, pleaded guilty to assaulting her on a night out in Limerick city in 2022.

Ms O’Brien watched from the Dail’s public gallery as Mr Harris fielded opposition questions on the controversy over the suspended sentence.

The Ceann Comhairle (speaker) of the Dail Sean O Fearghail said he was breaking with tradition to ask TDs to stand and applaud her.

After the ovation, Mr O Fearghail looked up at Ms O’Brien and said: “We are on your side.”

The Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lieutenant General Sean Clancy, has undertaken an audit to establish whether there are other serving members with convictions for gender-based violence.

The findings were due to be handed to Tanaiste and Minister for Defence Micheal Martin on Tuesday.

The Defence Forces have emphasised that any conviction in a civilian court has implications for a member of the military, but the organisation said it cannot act until the court processes have been completed.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald called for urgent action (Brian Lawless/PA)
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald called for urgent action (Brian Lawless/PA)

In relation to the sentence handed to Crotty, Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions does have the ability to make an application to have it reviewed.

Mr Harris said he wanted to meet Ms O’Brien after the end of any further legal proceedings that may arise, and commended her for coming forward.

“We need more people to be coming forward, we need to have a zero-tolerance approach, and what we certainly don’t need is anybody being put off coming forward,” he said.

Mr Harris also expressed anger at a “flurry of activity” by the Defence Forces now, questioning whether it was prompted by the public interest in the case.

“It’s a harsh thing for me to have to say as Taoiseach but I feel I need to say it, would the Defence Forces be carrying out their review that they’re now carrying out was there not so much public interest in this?” he told reporters outside Government Buildings in Dublin.

“There are people in the Defence Forces who clearly knew this was happening, why did they do nothing? These are very serious questions and as Taoiseach I am not satisfied in relation to this, I am not satisfied at all.

“I am really angry about it because we are now seeing a flurry of activity but that flurry of activity is only coming about because of the bravery of Natasha O’Brien and I want to know how many other people are hiding with convictions in relation to domestic, sexual or gender-based violence.

Leader of the Social Democrats Holly Cairns said women were fed up of hearing ‘platitudes’ from politicians on ending violence against women (Brian Lawless/PA)
Leader of the Social Democrats Holly Cairns said women were fed up of hearing ‘platitudes’ from politicians on ending violence against women (Brian Lawless/PA)

“They have no place, absolutely no place, in the Defence Forces.”

Later, in the Dail, Mr Harris was pressed by Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and the leader of the Social Democrats Holly Cairns on the matter.

Ms McDonald said the outcome of the court case was “shocking”.

“Women know that this case is not a standalone case,” she added.

“This isn’t an aberration, or something that happened in splendid isolation.

“This is a symptom of an epidemic in our society, a case that sadly has parallels and echoes throughout the courtrooms and the experiences and stories that women and girls carry with us throughout our lives.

“Experiences of not feeling safe, of not being safe, and not being able to have confidence that the system will keep you safe.”

Ms Cairns said women were sick of hearing “platitudes” from the Government on ending violence against women.

“Natasha and so many other women out there are fed up of hearing ‘never again’, they’re fed up of hearing platitudes from politicians, and they’re fed up of hearing promises of reform,” she said.

“What they want are answers as to why the system keeps failing them and action to stop it from happening again.”

Mr Harris rejected any attempt to portray his call for zero tolerance as a platitude.

“I’m absolutely furious at what’s happened in this country, just to be very clear, and there’s nobody in this house more disgusted than anybody else, nobody,” he said.

Protesters gather in Dublin in solidarity with Natasha O’Brien (Cate McCurry/PA)
Protesters gather in Dublin in solidarity with Natasha O’Brien (Cate McCurry/PA)

“I’m not just a Taoiseach, I’m a father, a son, a husband.

“Everybody wants to live in a country with zero tolerance.

“And nobody suggests zero tolerance is some sort of slogan or platitude.

“Zero tolerance is the cultural change we need to bring about in this country.

“And it requires every single person in this place, in the judiciary, in the Defence Forces, in our public services, in our homes, in our schools, working to bring it about.”

Mr Harris said it was “utterly unacceptable” for him as head of government not to have been informed if there are other serving members of the Defence Forces with criminal convictions.

“We need to actually start speaking in plain English here, if you have a criminal conviction, you have no right to be in our Defence Forces, plain and simple,” he said.

“We need to know how many people in the Defence Forces have a criminal conviction and when are they leaving – and that is not too much for me as head of government to ask.”

Earlier, Tanaiste Mr Martin said there were members of the Defence Forces “at all levels who were appalled at what has happened”.

“There can be no toleration, there has to be zero tolerance for violence of the kind that we witnessed against Natasha O’Brien – quite shocking – and indeed, in other cases that have come to light,” he said.

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