First there is the shock of not understanding how the brutal murder of a young woman in broad daylight might happen. Then there is the shock of understanding precisely what has happened. Because murders of Irish women have happened too often.
The heartbreak and trauma felt locally at the taking of Ashling Murphy’s life does not fit any version of rural life in Ireland as we comprehend it. The depthless loss to her family, community and the pupils she taught could be seen in the moist eyes of the children she taught at Durrow National School, according to principal James Hogan. “She was one in a million,” he told RTÉ.
Bouquets of flowers, candle-lit vigils, and processions to the gates of Leinster House have become part of the societal response to such murders.
Spontaneous, well-meaning and utterly sincere though they are, the time for something more in order to put an end to such violence, overwhelmingly perpetrated by men, is surely overdue.
Similarly, calls for “zero tolerance” tend to carry a searingly poignant echo, because they too have been made so many times in recent years.
For relatives and friends the pain and loss are not overwritten, they just become silent. But we as a society can no longer be inert.
“The killing of women is the extreme end of a spectrum of violence and abuse that women in Ireland and across the world experience every day,” said Sarah Benson, of Women’s Aid.
The group has kept a record of violent deaths of women since it was formed in 1996. To date, 244 have been killed. It is no surprise so many women move around their communities in fear of men.
National Women’s Council of Ireland director Orla O’Connor said: “It should go without saying that a woman should be able to go for a jog in broad daylight and return home safely.”
She has appealed for a total change in culture to end men’s violence against women.
Each death is like a scar on our national psyche but for the families the hurt is never over. The wound may be closed but never healed.
The failure to adequately deal with the issue effectively is a damning reflection of women’s unequal status in our society.
The longer we ignore it, the stronger this perception becomes and the easier we make it for perpetrators.
Last year, Safe Ireland called for a government minister with responsibility for gender-based violence. The separation of policy, planning and service provision was crippling work, the agency said. The courts, our State, our schools, and every unit of society must examine how we are failing women.
As has been argued before, not all men practise violence against women, but all women live with the threat of it. Violence against women is an outrage to all. But if men are not held accountable by men, if there is the faintest hint that violence is acceptable, then all men, not just the violators, must examine their consciences.