Judge at centre of Cathal Crotty controversy to retire this week

Government figures expect leniency of sentence handed down to Defence Forces member to be appealed by DPP

Protesters gathered in Dublin at the weekend in solidarity with Natasha O'Brien, who was attacked by Defence Forces member Cathal Crotty. Photograph: Cate McCurry/PA Wire

A judge who last week imposed a three-year suspended sentence on soldier Cathal Crotty for assaulting a woman in Limerick, a decision that prompted a public outcry, is due to retire this week.

Tom O’Donnell, who serves as a judge of the District and Circuit courts in Limerick, and was a solicitor before that, is to serve his last day on the bench on Wednesday.

The date was confirmed some weeks ago as Judge O’Donnell has reached retirement age and the development is not connected to the controversy that followed his decision in the Crotty case.

A number of protests were held at the weekend over the leniency of the sentence handed down to Crotty for the assault on Natasha O’Brien.


It has also emerged that Judge O’Donnell gave a suspended sentence to a Naval Service member, David O’Gorman of Drumgoole, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, who pleaded guilty to a violent attack on a former girlfriend that left one of her eyes permanently displaced.

O’Gorman agreed to make a significant payment to the victim and she agreed to accept it. He remains a member of the Defence Forces almost one year after he pleaded guilty.

Meanwhile, senior figures in Government believe the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is likely to appeal the sentence given to Crotty for assaulting Ms O’Brien on the grounds of “undue leniency”.

While stressing that the DPP is independent of Government, senior figures shared a general expectation across the Government that the sentence would be appealed.

In 2022, the last year for which figures are available, there were 37 appeals by the DPP for a sentence to be reviewed by the Court of Criminal Appeal on grounds of undue leniency. Of these, the DPP’s appeal was successful in 30 cases – an 81 per cent success rate. Legal sources say an appeal must show that the original sentence is outside the margins of discretion properly available to the sentencing judge.

Natasha O'Brien (24) who was assaulted by serving Irish soldier Cathal Crotty (22), of Parkroe Heights, Ardnacrusha, Co Clare, at O’Connell Street, Limerick on May 29th, 2022. Photograph: Brendan Gleeson

There were several protests against the sentence given to Crotty for his assault on Ms O’Brien over the weekend, including in Limerick where the gathering was addressed by her.

Speaking at the event, she said: “I am absolutely overwhelmed by your solidarity and your support. Without your outrage, your fear, your horror this would not have been looked at.

“What happened to me was horrific and I experienced an extremely violent assault by the hands of a soldier in the Irish Defence Forces, who are supposed to protect us.”

There has also been criticism of Judge O’Donnell for saying that if he imposed a custodial sentence, Crotty’s Army career would be over. The Defence Forces has told Crotty that it has commenced a disciplinary process against him, which may result in his dismissal from the Army.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times