Harris ‘not satisfied’ at Defence Forces’ handling of fallout of assault case

Taoiseach Simon Harris has said he is not satisfied with how the Irish Defence Forces have handled the fallout from the case of an Irish soldier who viciously assaulted a woman.

He said he wants to know if there are other members of the Irish military who are “hiding with convictions” for domestic, sexual or gender-based violence.

Tanaiste and Minister for Defence Micheal Martin said the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces is carrying out an audit on any serving members with convictions for gender-based violence.

The Defence Forces confirmed that Lieutenant General Sean Clancy is carrying out a “thorough” review across all brigades and formations to ensure military regulations are being adhered to.

It also emphasised that any conviction in a civilian court has implications for a Defence Forces member, but it cannot act until the court processes have been completed.

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 Natasha O’Brien.

The 22-year-old, with an address at Parkroe Heights, Ardnacrusha, Co Clare, pleaded guilty to assaulting Ms O’Brien in Limerick in 2022.

At the weekend, thousands of people gathered in protests across the country in solidarity with Ms O’Brien, with a further protest planned outside the Dail on Tuesday evening, which Ms O’Brien is expected to attend.

Taoiseach Simon Harris
Taoiseach Simon Harris expressed frustration over the Defence Forces’ actions (Niall Carson/PA)

“I felt completely alone after the whole ordeal in court last week but to know I have so much support, I know I have so many people behind me, that people are so proud of me for speaking up about something that I think everybody can relate to and everybody is not happy about, it’s great to be able to use my voice and hopefully make a difference because that’s why I’m talking about this,” she said on Virgin Media’s Ireland AM.

“My protest is today outside the Dail and I urge anyone that isn’t happy with our society to protest with me.”

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Harris said he wants 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.

He also expressed anger at a “flurry of activity” by 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 said.

“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.

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

Mr Martin said the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces is carrying out an audit on any serving members with convictions for sexual or gender-based violence.

He said there are 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.

“So I’ve asked in the context of further cases, I’ve asked the Chief of Staff for a full report on that and when I get that report, I’ll consider any further actions that will be required.

“In parallel with that, an audit is under way in respect of any other cases, similar to that case that may be out there.”

He added: “The use of violence in the manner that was used in these cases is quite shocking, there is no excuse for it.

“And there has to be standards and values within the Defence Forces and people’s behaviour, whether one is in uniform or not, must approximate to those values and the most fundamental of all is you do not behave in such a violent manner towards women, and more generally, in society and that’s the bottom line.”

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