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CEO of Sexual Violence Centre Cork Mary Crilly awarded freedom of the city

Crilly said she was accepting the award on behalf of all the people the centre has helped since it was founded 40 years ago.

Mary Crilly.
Mary Crilly.

FOUNDER AND CEO of Sexual Violence Centre Cork Mary Crilly has been awarded the freedom of the city in a ceremony today.

Speaking during the ceremony, she said she was accepting the award on behalf of all the people the centre has helped and who have supported the centre since it was founded 40 years ago. 

“In the past 40 years, I’ve rarely separated one part of my life from the other. So for me, this is for survivors and for all those who are here and all those who are tuning in online,” she said.

Crilly was enrolled in the Roll of Freedom “in recognition of her unstinting support and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence over four decades” and “her tireless work in raising awareness of its prevalence, encouraging two-way dialogue with younger people, and working with government, statutory and voluntary agencies to change and influence social policy”.

In a special video message, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Crilly was “an outstanding person” who has contributed so much “to life in Cork, and indeed, to our country”. 

“She has pioneered new initiatives and new approaches, and fundamentally changed society’s response to male violence against women,” he said.

Mary continues to work with Government with voluntary organisations, visiting schools, creating awareness around violence against women, but all of the time from the perspective of the victim. And in so doing, has made an enormous contribution to the quality of life of our people, and particularly women in Irish society.

He congratulated her on the “well deserved honour, reflecting the enormous impact you have had on the lives of so many victims and so many women from male violence”. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney deemed Crilly a “Cork treasure” in a tweet today.

“So pleased to see her being honoured today with the Freedom of Cork City,” he said.

“She’s worked for 40 years, supporting victims of sexual violence, campaigning for better services, educating people with passion & empathy. Thank you Mary!”

Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork Mary Rose Desmond praised Crilly for being “an unrelenting advocate” for survivors of sexual abuse, adding that “we all owe her an immense debt of gratitude”.

“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,” she said.

In her speech, Crilly said: “Today is such a special day, not alone for me, but for all survivors of sexual violence in Ireland…Today is not just about looking back and seeing what has been achieved in our city and in our country and what has not been achieved.

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“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.

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.

Over 250 guests attended the historic ceremony to see her receive the accolade, the highest honour a city can bestow upon a citizen or eminent guest.

A specially commissioned piece of poetry, This Poem is a Zone of Sanctuary, written in honour of Crilly, was also read at the ceremony by its author, poet Paula Meehan.

Crilly now joins a list of famous female recipients of the award, including Adi Roche, Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson.

Other famous recipients include Michael D Higgins, Michael Flatley, Albert Reynolds, John Hume, Éamon de Valera and John F Kennedy.

Crilly also said that she is working on a three-year exit plan to step down as the centre’s CEO, but she added that she will continue her campaigning and advocacy work.

“My parting message is that I’m not going anywhere, so watch out world.”

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Jane Moore

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