Political leaders to discuss male violence in wake of Ashling Murphy murder

The hearse arrives at Lowertown Cemetery following Ashling Murphy's funeral mass at St Brigid's Church in Mountbolus, Co Offaly, yesterday. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Senan Molony

Political leaders will meet to consider their response to the issue of male violence in the wake of the murder of Ashling Murphy.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin agreed with the suggestion by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald for an all-party meeting of leaders and said he will convene the meeting.

The delivery of new initiatives on male violence would be the key for the “maintaining of momentum”, the Taoiseach said

The Department of Justice was leading on the matter, but would be liaising with the Oireachtas, he added.

Ms McDonald said: “It falls to us now as legislators, as political representatives, to lead the way. That is what is expected of us. It is not a moment for party politics, or for division. This is a moment for unity.”

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly said he agreed. “Collectively we are all leaders. We must address violence against women in this country which has taken so many lives,” he added.

He said the new committee on gender equality, to be chaired by Ivana Bacik, would also be a very important response.

Ms McDonald told the Dáil on its first day back that male violence was now endemic in Irish life. But the public appetite for action was now equal to it.

Ashling Murphy was not the first woman to die in a random violent attack, she said. Streams of stories, personal experiences and traumatic narratives were flooding the airwaves, she said.

The stark testimony showed that “male violence against women, harassment of women, degradation of women is endemic, pervasive and ever present in Irish life".

“We now stand at a crossroads. And there is a choice to be made. We must choose action,” she said.

Ms McDonald suggested that “religious dogma” had fostered misogyny.

“The roots of sexism and misogyny run deep. The origins are in religious dogma that defined women as man's property, that excluded women from the world of work, that relegated us as objects and confined us to domestic chores, that confined and exploited the poor and vulnerable in laundries and mother and baby homes, that stole babies from the arms of their mothers.”

Since that time, which disfigured the lives of generations. of women, much had changed, she said. However she warned: “The face of misogyny has changed but it hasn't gone away.”

Ireland today is ugly and dangerous still for women, she said, “whether it's unsolicited sexual photos, the online stalking and abuse, harassment in shops and nightclubs, on the bus and bicycles, at work or in college".

"It's the intimidation of lewd commentary and cat-calling, it's the never-ending mansplaining, it's the gaslighting and the coercive control, it is rape.”

Bríd Smith of People Before Profit (PBP) warned that many women’s refuges around the country were underfunded, and Ireland did not have anywhere near as many as recommended by the United Nations per head of population.

A total of 244 women had died as a result of misogynistic violence in recent years, she said.

She said a PBP Bill to overhaul sex education in schools had been passed at second stage two years ago, but remained bogged down at committee stage. It would ensure “non-ethos” information, emphasising issues such as consent.

The Taoiseach said there was a need to change legislation on relationships and sexual education. It needed to be something that could be implemented in the classrooms, he added.

He agreed that the murder of Ashling Murphy has been a watershed in Irish life, and had to be seen as such.