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'Shocking' testimony on violence against women by female TDs shows all parties united on issue

Leo Varadkar said the government must lead on the issue.

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said he was struck by some of the “shocking” testimony from female TDs in the Dáil yesterday on violence against women stating all parties are united in wanting to deal with the issues. 

He said the unimaginable tragedy of Ashling Murphy’s murder has “left the country reeling”, stating that is has “particularly resonated with so many women” as it is “their worst fears realised”.

Government must lead on the issue of violence against women, and “must do much more to make sure this doesn’t happen again” and ensure women do not live in that fear.

“I heard some of what was said in the house yesterday, and I think the powerful and shocking testimony by members, particularly female members, makes clear how determined and united we all are on this issue,” he said.

There were no party divisions among female TDs yesterday as they joined together to  recount their own ordeals and demand action. 

‘I can’t breathe’

In a powerful speech, Fianna Fáil’s Minister of State for Disability in the Department of Health Anne Rabbitte spoke about a phone call she received one night at 3am.

I am in my bed. Alone. The phone rings. I shake off the sleep and answer.

A man’s voice. Violent and determined.

‘We know where you are. You need to back off the lines. We will get you.’

My voice catches in my throat. I can’t breathe. I say nothing.

‘Are you hearing me?’

‘We will get you.’

Then silence.

Just me, on my own and the darkness. Safety robbed, security violated. Should I wake my children? Are we safe? Will the guards take a phone call seriously?

“Not all men. But all women will identify with the feelings that come following these encounters.

“Not all men, but all women know them well, because they are not rare.

“Not all men, but all women grow up knowing we are not safe,” Rabbitte told the Dáil. 

Later she shared some of the online comments that have been made about her online since she gave her speech, stating: “We’re only codding ourselves if we think we don’t have a long way to go.”

Fine Gael TD  Josepha Madigan also spoke of her own experience. Last July, the TD was praised for her speech during a Dáil discussion on sexual and domestic violence in which she revealed that she is a survivor of sexual assault.

There are “very few” women her age who have not been subjected to some form of sexual assault in their lifetime.

“I know this because I am one of them,” she said last summer.

‘More common than you think’

The Dublin-Rathdown TD: “It was, and is, a lot more common than many believe.”

Speaking yesterday, she said while it is true that some men might be able to understand the issues facing women, “there is not one man among us who will physically feel the same shame, guilt, anxiety or sheer worthlessness that we are made to feel at times”.  

“I know what it is like to say ‘No’ but for it to fall on deaf ears. I know what it is like to be made to feel inferior. I know what it is like to feel like prey. We are the hunted, conditioned for decades to change our route home, to text when safely home, to text when in the taxi, to not walk alone in the dark and to dress appropriately so as not to attract unwanted attention and this has to stop,” she said.

Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly said each time she goes for a run, she asks herself questions before leaving.

“I like to run. I am not good at it and I cannot run very far or fast but I like to do it. When I go out I am always careful because I try, as a woman approaching 50 years of age, to not “bring it on myself”.  

“Imagine that is what I do before I leave the house. I have spoken to my husband about this and it comes as a revelation to good and decent men but I check myself before I go and think about what I am doing to “bring this on myself”.  

“That should not happen and that is not personal to me but that is what all women do before they go out…. I am not afraid of the dark. I am grown woman, not a child, but I am afraid of being in the dark on my own or with someone behind me.  That is not acceptable,” she said. 

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‘Ludicrous sentences’

Sinn Féin TD Pauline Tully, who recently told the Irish Mirror podcast The Glass Ceiling about her ordeal of when her ex-husband Pearse McAuley stabbed her 13 times in the course of an attack, said radical change is needed.

McAuley was sentenced to 12 years with four suspended in 2015 for stabbing Tully 13 times on Christmas Eve in 2014. He had been previously jailed for killing Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in 1996.

“Radical change is needed across a number of areas, including the Garda’s approach to reports of domestic violence and the ludicrous sentences that many perpetrators of violence against women receive, because if it is not dealt with it gives the message that women’s lives do not matter.

“Sex education in schools must encompass healthy relationships and the meaning of consent and mutual respect.

“Proper funding of domestic refuges is critical.  More than 800 women were turned away from refuges last year. There are nine counties without refuges, including the two I represent of Cavan and Monaghan,” she highlighted.

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