Does it matter who you are where justice is concerned in Ireland?

Macha is a Slugger reader from County Armagh…

It seems so.

In an unprovoked attack on O’Connell Street in Limerick, Cathal Crotty grabbed Natasha O’Brien by the hair, knocked her to the ground and beat her unconscious. Crotty was an off duty private in the Irish Defence Forces when he perpetrated this violence, Ms. O’Brien reportedly asked him to stop shouting homophobic slurs at people. Unremorseful after the event, he later boasted on Snapchat “Two to put her down, two to put her out.” Furthermore, when questioned, he initially tried to blame the victim by claiming she had instigated the violence. CCTV proved this was false.

The Defence Forces have six values purported to form the bedrock of the organisation. They include respect, moral courage and integrity. Despite Crotty’s violence, homophobia, victim blaming, initial lack of remorse and his trampling these values into the ground, it was seemingly important for the Judge to prioritise safeguarding his career in the Army.

Meanwhile, Ms.O’Brien lost her job, as a result how the assault affected her.

Negative consequences for the perpetrator matter, similar consequences for the victim seem to matter less.

Cathal Crotty was ordered to pay Natasha O’Brien €3000 compensation. Activist and academic Ailbhe Smyth responded with, “It sends a message to women that our lives don’t matter, our safety doesn’t matter, we’re not worth a button, we’re worth €3,000.”

Unfortunately Ms. O’Brien is far from the only woman let down by the Irish justice system. It was shocking to read that men found guilty of gender-based violence in Ireland can often walk out of court with a fully suspended sentence. The trick seems to be plead guilty and empty your pockets.

Suspended sentences mean that the perpetrator is empowered with a freedom that is theirs to lose, while the survivor of the attack is disempowered once again, this time by a system supposed to protect her. Her trauma and psychological scars could last a lifetime and she might not feel safe, while her attacker is likely to sleep soundly in his own bed that night.

The message received is that, as a female victim of violence, the state hasn’t got your back. Other women are deterred from coming forward and so their assailants remain free to carry on their abuse.

This is why violence against women continues to fester in our society.

Protests in support of Ms O’Brien have been held in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, demonstrating the depth of the outrage many feel at how this particular case has been handled. In Dublin, Ms O’Brien received a standing ovation and applause in the Dáil as she stood in the public gallery, before attending a protest outside Leinster House.

Unfortunately, clapping is a transient flash of solidarity and the spark that is activism can be short lived.

These protests and calls for change are not the first outpourings of anger over gender-based violence in Ireland.

The judiciary needs to start delivering actual justice for women who have been subjected to horrific violence and the process to make that happen needs to start now. True justice involves putting the impact on the victim and the severity of the crime at the centre of sentencing. Violence against women ought to carry a mandatory custodial sentence.

If our justice system is not delivering for women and our political system is not making the changes necessary to make that happen, then the message is that women do not really matter and we can be placated with empty words and promises.

We can’t let that happen.

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