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Woman beaten unconscious by serving Irish soldier demands reform of the military | World News

The Irish Defence Forces are facing calls for urgent reform after a solider avoided prison for assaulting a woman, reigniting the debate about misogynistic abuse within the military.

Natasha O’Brien, 24, was beaten unconscious in Limerick city when she asked a serving soldier, Cathal Crotty, to stop using homophobic slurs on the street.

Crotty, 22, hurled punches at her, later boasting to friends on Snapchat: “Two to put her down, two to put her out.”

Ms O’Brien was left with injuries including a broken nose and concussion, and says she later lost her job due to the psychological aftermath.

“As I lay in the foetal position, losing consciousness, he continued his relentless beating – my last conscious thought was, ‘he’s not stopping, I’m going to die’,” she told the court of the 2022 attack.

Crotty pleaded guilty, but the judge decided to fully suspend the three-year sentence last month, noting there would be “no doubt” the soldier’s army career would be finished by jail time.

The verdict sparked national protests and political condemnation in Ireland.

Ms O’Brien remembers leaving the court after the sentencing, “coming out alone, hopeless, just utterly devoidā€¦feeling let down and abandoned”.

Cathal Crotty. Pic submitted by Stephen Murphy
Cathal Crotty avoided a prison sentence

Private Crotty is subject to military disciplinary proceedings, but currently remains a serving soldier as there are still some legal proceedings outstanding.

“We have to hold the Defence Forces accountable because they’re utterly negligent in safeguarding the public,” Ms O’Brien told Sky News.

“It’s a slow process. I’m not the first to speak out about the issues and I won’t be the last, but I hope I make it easier for the next.”

Natasha wants to see a change in the “misogynistic” culture within the Irish Defence Forces, and to have the way the army deals with soldiers facing serious charges reformed.

She’s not the only one.

‘They cover it up’

Retired captain Diane Byrne says she was hounded from the army after 13 years of service, tortured by constant chauvinistic abuse.

She formed a campaign group, Women of Honour, and says she knows of hundreds of women who experienced physical violence in the Defence Forces, including rape.

“I couldn’t say there’s a blanket culture of violence against women in the Defence Forces,” she said. “But I think there’s a tolerance for inappropriate behaviour or violence in the Defence Forces because they cover it up, what has happened to people.

“I think a lot of women out there are still not coming forward and explaining what they have experienced, because they just don’t trust in who they can go to and what supports they’ll get and whether they’ll be believed.”

A member of the Irish Defence Force with a machine gun takes part in a parade during the commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of the Irish Easter Rising in Dublin, Ireland, March 27, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
The Defence Forces acknowledges reform is needed. File pic: Reuters

Years of campaigning by the Women of Honour led to the Irish government last week launching a judge-led tribunal to investigate the claims of sexual abuse and discrimination.

Hailed as a “step forward” in addressing the problem, the tribunal has appealed for women to come forward to tell their stories.

The process will not be quick, however; it’s thought the tribunal could last for up to three years.

The Defence Forces acknowledge reform is needed. It revealed 68 personnel currently have criminal convictions, or are before the courts, for a range of offences including physical assault, sexual offences and others.

‘Bravery of individuals’

Its chief of staff, Lieutenant General Sean Clancy declined to grant Sky News an interview, but in a statement noted “the unacceptable presence of personnel with serious convictions including gender-based violence within the Defence Forces. Such individuals have no place in our ranks”.

“We owe it to the bravery of individuals like Natasha O’Brien, to those impacted within our own organisation and to the values we stand for to ensure that no one within the Defence Forces can avoid the consequences of their actions.”

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The current public backlash has angered and demoralised many serving soldiers, angry at what they see as a blaming of wider societal problems on the military.

Former special forces soldier and TD (member of the Irish parliament) Cathal Berry says many within the military feel they’ve “been thrown under the bus” by the government.

“The problem is not Defence Forces culture, the problem is the very small number of people who are not aligned to Defence Forces culture.

“They think the values and standards don’t apply to them so I don’t believe there’s a cover-up in any shape or form, I think the opposite.”

Cathal Berry TD. Pic submitted by Stephen Murphy
Cathal Berry says a “very small number of people” are to blame

Natasha O’Brien says she will continue to campaign for reform in the military.

The leniency of the suspended sentence handed to her attacker is now being appealed by the director of public prosecutions, but no hearing date has yet been set.

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