Mary Crilly, sexual violence victims’ rights campaigner, is granted the freedom of Cork

A crusader for the rights of sexual violence victims has been honoured with one of the nation’s highest honours.

ary Crilly (67), chief executive of the Sexual Violence Centre Cork (SVCC), was presented with the Freedom of Cork by deputy Lord Mayor Mary Rose Desmond.

Ms Crilly, from Dublin, has helped run the centre for almost 40 years and, over its operations, it has helped more than 10,000 people who have been the victims of sexual violence.

The centre has now become a benchmark model for the provision of victim support services both here and overseas.

She used her honour to call for the waiting times in the courts for abuse, sexual assault and rape trials to be reduced as a matter of national urgency.

“People are waiting far too long for justice,” she said.

“No matter how much the system has been patched up over recent years in my opinion it is just not fit for purpose.”

The SVCC director warned that it was totally unacceptable for the victims of sexual violence to be at times left waiting more than four or five years for court cases to be held.

But Ms Crilly also said there had been a radical change in attitude towards services such as the SVCC.

In its early years, she said people were afraid to even acknowledge they had even sought help from the service.

Today she said the service enjoyed massive support from the general public and State agencies.

Members of the public promote the SVCC emblem and its support services at major events such as charity runs and public demonstrations.

She said the emergence of specialist groups such as the Garda Protective Services Unit (PSU) had also been a critical development.

Ms Crilly said she was surprised to discover she had been awarded the Freedom of Cork, an honour that is given entirely at the behest of the serving Lord Mayor.

“It was a total shock. I really wasn’t expecting the honour. It was totally out of the blue,” she said.

“Of course it is a great honour. I may be from Dublin but I now consider myself a true Corkonian. I’m thrilled, delighted and excited – but I want to dedicate this award to the survivors of sexual violence. They are the amazing people here.

“It is such a special day, not alone for me, but for all survivors of sexual violence in Ireland.”


Mary Crilly at the ceremony yesterday. Photo: Michael O’Sullivan

She said the day was not just about looking back and seeing what has been achieved in the city and nationally and what has not been achieved.

“It is also about looking forward. It is about moving forward to fight the fight and make a difference. And together, we can make a difference,” Ms Crilly said.

“As a society we need to have a zero tolerance for sexual violence.

“We need to keep talking. We need to keep challenging. We need to change the culture that tolerates sexual violence.”

Ms Crilly, who has lived in Cork since 1977, joins a distinguished list of past Freedom of Cork recipients including John F Kennedy, War of Independence heroes Terence MacSwiney and Tomás MacCurtain, John Hume, Roy Keane, Sonia O’Sullivan, Ronan O’Gara, Niall Tobin, Jack Lynch, Éamon de Valera, Mary McAleese, Mary Robinson and Michael D Higgins.

Councillor Desmond said Ms Crilly had made a massive contribution to Cork life and had given support and hope to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

“Mary Crilly’s extraordinary resilience and fortitude has driven her work and the work of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre for almost 40 years,” the deputy Lord Mayor said.

“Not only have thousands benefitted from this work and dedication, but she has driven societal change in the way that sexual violence is now dealt with in this country.

“That Cork is recognising this remarkable woman with the Freedom of the City is so very fitting and a proud day for Mary and for the city.”

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