'No justice' as soldier who beat woman avoids jail

A woman beaten in the street by a serving soldier who later boasted about it on social media has criticised the Irish justice system after he avoided prison.

Cathal Crotty, 22, attacked 24-year-old Natasha O'Brien, punching her six times, after she asked him to stop shouting homophobic abuse.

Ms O'Brien's injuries included a broken nose and bruising. She told the court she has suffered nightmares and panic attacks.

Crotty was given a three-year suspended sentence on Thursday.

The judge described the attack as a "cowardly, vicious, unprovoked" assault.

However, he said the defendant "must be given credit" for his guilty plea and told the court he had "no doubt" that if Crotty was jailed his army "career is over".

Speaking outside court on Thursday, Ms O'Brien said: "It's not justice."

She added that Crotty had taken a pledge, when he joined the Irish Defence Forces, to "protect the citizens and civilians of Ireland".

“He used his special combat training that our taxpayers money goes into - to provide the training for our defence forces - and he uses special combat training on me."

Ms O'Brien told BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra programme on Friday that she would not have gone into court "if it had just been about me".

“I was really, really, hoping that I would have been able to set a good example, that when you do something bad you get consequences for it - and instead our system has shown that it is broken," she added.

Prosecutors 'could appeal sentence'

Ms O’Brien, who was not known to her attacker, said she wanted to come forward to “use her voice” because so many women have been “traumatised”.

“This is not just this man, this is many, many, many, young people in Ireland that carry on like this, and there was really no justice,” she added.

Irish Justice Minister Helen McEntee praised Ms O'Brien's bravery in coming forward, adding that prosecutors in the Republic of Ireland can lodge an appeal against the sentence.

"I cannot commend her enough for what she has done. And the bravery that she has shown. It is always open to the DPP to appeal a sentence. I say that broadly," Ms McEntee told Irish broadcaster RTÉ.

Ms O'Brien said on Friday that an appeal was "the least of our concerns".

She said she wanted to see cultural and legal change.

“The concern for me is the allowance of this to ever have happened," she said.

"What is happening with the Irish Defence Forces? What’s going on with the system of justice? Why are they failing victims?"

“I have just been cast away and I will not stand to see this happen to someone else. It is not okay and it needs to change.”

'Gender violence issue within force'

Former Irish Army officer Tom Clonan, who is a senator in the upper house of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) said that the Irish Defence Forces has an issue when it comes to gender-based violence.

However, he added, every private and public organisation or institution will have people within their ranks who are capable of committing violent acts.

"I think we have a wider, all-of-society challenge there in terms of educating our boys and young men about how to treat our fellow citizens," he told Evening Extra.

The Irish Defence Forces, which has begun internal proceedings in relation to Crotty now that the court case is over, said it "unequivocally condemns any actions by serving personnel that are contrary to or do not reflect our values".

It added that "any conviction in a civilian court may have implications for the retention and service of members" of the defence forces.

It also praised "the bravery of the victim in this case, and hope for her full recovery from the injuries sustained".

What was said in court?

The court heard Ms O'Brien was walking home with a female friend after working in a pub when she was assaulted.

Crotty, of Parkroe Heights, Ardnacrusha, County Clare, fled the scene and, hours later, boasted about the attack to friends on Snapchat.

The court was told he initially tried to blame the victim for what happened.

He told the garda (Irish police officer) who arrested him that she had instigated the attack on O’Connell Street in Limerick on 29 May 2022.

He later accepted this initial account blaming Ms O'Brien was "all wrong" after he was shown CCTV footage of the incident.

He has never given a full explanation for the assault.

 Limerick Circuit Court
The case was heard at Limerick Circuit Court [BBC]

The judge imposed a three-year prison sentence, which he suspended in its entirety, and ordered Crotty to pay €3,000 compensation to Ms O’Brien without prejudice to any potential civil court proceedings.

The sentence came just two days after Women’s Aid Ireland reported their highest ever recorded rate of violence against women in the charity’s 50 years of operation.