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'We need to stand up and be counted': TDs agree on all-party approach to violence against women

Tributes were also paid to Ashling Murphy, who was laid to rest in Offaly yesterday

Government benches during Leaders Questions today
Government benches during Leaders Questions today
Image: Oireachtas TV

Updated Jan 19th 2022, 5:17 PM

TRIBUTES WERE PAID in the Dáil to Ashling Murphy this afternoon, when TDs agreed that says there should be a cross-party approach to tackling gender, sexual and domestic abuse against women across Ireland.

In separate speeches this evening Justice Minister Helen McEntee and Taoiseach Micheál Martin offered condolences to Ashling’s loved ones, while condemning violence against women.

It comes after the school teacher was yesterday laid to rest in Co Offaly, with heartfelt tributes being paid during her funeral mass.

The murder of the 23-year-old while she was out on a run next to the Grand Canal in Tullamore has led to conversations about how violence against women should be tackled in Ireland.

At Leaders’ Questions this afternoon, proceedings were opened with tributes to Ashling Murphy from Leas Ceann Comhairle Catherine Connolly, who extended condolences to all who knew her.

Other TDs also paid tribute to Ashling in the Dáil this afternoon, including Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Labour leader Alan Kelly.

 McDonald said that Ashling’s death must be a turning point for Ireland, and that “leaders must lead” on violence against women.

“We need now to stand up and be counted. The public appetite for action now matches the scale of male violence that women face every day,” said McDonald.

“This is our chance to turn the tide.”

She called for a meeting of political leaders to be urgently convened and that united action immediate and long-term actions need to be brought in to eliminate violence against women.

Martin said that he agreed with a meeting of political leaders and believes a cross-party approach is required to “mirror what society wants to do” on violence against women.

“In that context, men need to listen more and men need to hear women more,” said Martin.

Martin said that there needed to be a complete elimination of violence against women in Irish society, adding that this includes eliminating the “undermining of women in a misogynistic way”.

He added that this would require a “multi-faceted” approach that includes prevention, protection, security as well as education.

In short, it needs a sea change in culture. Not just legislation initiatives, but a sea change in culture.

The Taoiseach also said that McEntee was working on a national strategy to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

This strategy is set to be launched in March, with the Justice Minister taking a main role in delivering policy and providing services under the plan.

Speaking on the policy, McEntee said that its aim is clear: “zero tolerance of violence and abuse against women.”

“To prevent violence and abuse against women, we must eradicate the social and cultural attitudes which make women feel unsafe.

“We can only do so by changing our culture to ensure we are not all bystanders,” McEntee added.

The Sinn Féin leader also called for Martin to head up government efforts to stamp out violence against women, with the Taoiseach saying that there will be a chain of accountability from the Department of Justice to his office on the issue.

“Above all, delivery is required on all fronts. And at the centrepiece of this strategy, as I said, is prevention, protection, prosecution and coordination of policies,” said Martin.

People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith called for additional women’s refuge centres to be established across the country.

She cited the Instanbul Convention, which Ireland has signed up to, which calls for one refuge centre per 10,000 population. In Dublin, according to Smith, there are 29 refuge centres when there should be 135, while Cork should have 54, but only has six.

The Taoiseach said that McEntee’s strategy would address refuge spaces, and that there would be additional funding allocated towards the centres.

New strategy

Speaking in the Dáil later this evening, Micheál Martin said that Ashling “was in the prime of her life and was looking forward to the time ahead”.

“The grief Ashling’s family is feeling is indescribable,” he said.

“Her entire community are bereft. I am so sorry that this has happened to the Murphy family, that this dark moment in Ireland’s history has taken this vivacious and creative young woman from them. May Ashling rest in peace.

“This shocking crime has left the entire country devastated and given rise to legitimate questions about whether we are doing enough to prevent violence against women.”

The Taoiseach added that it was important and appropriate that the Dáil met to discuss what needs to be done about violence against women.

“A lot of work has already been done and more is underway, but everyone in this House has a perspective and an input to make,” he said.

Also in the Dáil this evening, McEntee said that the solution to tackling violence against women would not come through legislation alone, or by treating it as a just a criminal justice issue.

“What is required is societal and cultural change,” said McEntee.

0358 Undocumented migrants Justice Minister Helen McEntee Source: RollingNews.ie

“We will have failed if we allow some men develop such unhealthy attitudes towards women which lead them to commit a crime and enter our criminal justice system.”

However, while McEntee believes the issue goes beyond a criminal justice one, she assured people that perpetrators are investigated and face “the full rigours of the law”.

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“I will do whatever it takes to ensure that perpetrators are investigated, prosecuted and face the full rigours of the law.

That the punishment matches the crime. And that our Gardai have sufficient resources and technology and that our laws are strong enough to bring abusers to justice.

According to McEntee, the new strategy has been in development over the last year, with the Department of Justice working with those who deal with violence against women, as well as victims and survivors.

McEntee says there are four pillars to the new strategy: prevention; protection; prosecution; and policy co-ordination.

There will be input on the strategy from across government departments and state agencies, with the Justice Minister saying key actions and timelines will be provided when it is unveiled.

In her speech, McEntee particularly appealed to men, saying that she knows that many have been thinking about the events of recent days.

“I know so many men have been thinking deeply about this,” said McEntee.

We cannot do this without you. We need you to stand with us. We can make this change and make this moment count.

Criminal offences

There are several new bills that McEntee intends to bring forward over the next year, such as adding new criminal offences for stalking and non-fatal strangulation.

The bill, planned to be published before Easter, would make stalking a criminal offence and update the description of stalking. The updated description of stalking would indicate that watching or following a victim, even when they are not aware, is stalking.

It would make impersonating a victim and communicating with a third party a crime, and would ensure all forms of modern communication are covered.

McEntee says that making strangulation a standalone offence would encourage victims to come forward and report what happened to them.

Over the summer, the Minister says that a Hate Crime Bill would be published that would introduce specified penalities for crimes motivated by prejudice, including those motivated by gender.

A new Sexual Offences Bill will also be published, that would introduce changes on extending anonymity to additional categories of victims and changing provisions for sentences to be delivered in public.

The Garda Powers Bill will be focused on enhancing existing Garda powers around searching, arrest and detention.

There will be a new bill that will provide for modern recording technology to assist in investigations.

McEntee said that she is committed to the “long and difficult path of change” and that the country should join together to tackle the issue of violence against women.

“What we can do is commit to Ashling, to so many other women, and to each other that we will dedicate ourselves to the long and difficult path of change,” said McEntee.

We know pain and anger only too well, but let all of us hold on to the determination and solidarity of this week, and join together in a common cause.

“That we come together to demand zero tolerance of violence and abuse against women.”

About the author:

Tadgh McNally

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