‘An attack on all women’: North’s politicians hold vigil for Ashling Murphy

First Minister says teacher’s murder has brought North and South together in grief

MLAs and MPs take part in a silent vigil on the steps of Parliament Buildings, Stormont, for Ashling Murphy. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

MLAs and MPs take part in a silent vigil on the steps of Parliament Buildings, Stormont, for Ashling Murphy. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

 

Politicians in Northern Ireland have paid tribute to murdered primary school teacher Ashling Murphy.

Assembly members from across the political spectrum gathered outside Parliament Buildings at Stormont on Monday to observe a silence in memory of the Co Offaly woman.

A large framed picture of the 23-year-old teacher and musician was placed in front of the building, with a large bouquet of flowers placed on the ground beneath.

Ms Murphy was killed on Wednesday afternoon on the outskirts of Tullamore while out for a run. The investigation into her murder is continuing.

The Stormont vigil took place shortly before the murder was raised at the start of Assembly business, with MLAs highlighting the need for comprehensive action to tackle violence against women.

Stormont Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill told the Assembly chamber that domestic, sexual and gender-based violence had reached epidemic levels.

The Sinn Féin MLA read out the names of women who have been killed on the island of Ireland during the pandemic.

“There are simply no words to convey the cruelty and injustice of what happened to Ashling, nor the heartbreak and sorrow of her loss,” she said.

“Our hearts go out to her family and all who loved her.

“Regretfully the truth is violence against women and girls, the threat of violence against women and girls, the fear of violence against women and girls, is all too common.

“Domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is an epidemic.”

Ms O’Neill said there must be a zero-tolerance approach towards misogyny and sexism.

“Since Ashling’s murder, countless women and girls across this island – myself included – will have been reflecting on our own safety as we go about our daily lives,” she added.

“Sadly, Ashling’s murder is not an isolated incident. But it must be a watershed moment.

“How often do we hear that we are ‘lucky’ we weren’t attacked? Because we had dared to walk a particular route, or be out at a certain time.

“Well, we aren’t ‘lucky’. We are angry.

“Because no woman or girl should ever have to face such disgusting attitudes, or the threat of abuse that destroys lives.”

Coming together

DUP First Minister Paul Givan, who was joined by DUP party leader Jeffrey Donaldson at the vigil, said people in Northern Ireland and the Republic had come together as one community to share in grief over the murder of Ms Murphy.

“All of us have come together in the past number of days to show our revulsion for what has happened to Ashling Murphy and to stand in support of Ashling and her family,” he said.

“We are struck by the last words Ashling said to her mum, ‘Mam, I love you’, before she left.

“As a father of three daughters I know last night when I was in Lisburn and we held a vigil, I was thinking about them.

“I was thinking about the type of society that they [his daughters] are growing up in, and when they get to that age they should feel safe, they [should] be respected, they should not be objectified.

“They should not have to suffer the kind of bad behaviour which often is directed at women and girls.

“We all must take personal responsibility to change our society.

“Men need to step up and challenge this type of behaviour.”

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon, who was joined by SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood at the vigil, said the murder represented an attack on all women.

“In this modern world, the fact that women are not safe is terrifying,” she told the Assembly.

“We must, as political leaders here across these islands, band together to end this violence.

“As a mother my heart is breaking for Ashling Murphy’s family.

“What makes this murder so frightening is the casual violence in broad daylight in an area busy with people out for exercise.

“This could have been any woman. So it represents an attack on every woman. If a young girl can’t go for a jog in the middle of the day in an area surrounded by people, then where can women feel safe?”

Societal change

Speaking outside after the vigil, Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie said there was a need for societal change.

“It was the most terrible murder,” he said.

“Sadly, this is all too often in our society today that our women and young girls no longer feel safe and there’s a real danger out there and we must address this real danger.”

Fielding Assembly questions later in the day, Minister for Justice and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long told MLAs a cross-departmental approach was needed to protect women and girls in Northern Ireland.

“I think, like everyone in this chamber, I was both sickened and horrified by the murder of Ashling Murphy, and I am thinking of those who loved her at this awful time,” she said.

“I am also thinking of the shockingly high number of women who have been murdered over the last 12 months in Northern Ireland, the latest being just before Christmas.

“It should be clear to us that urgent and radical action is required. I am determined to do everything I can as justice minister, but it cannot only be for justice, we must move upstream and do the preventative work that is required to stop women becoming victims of this abuse.” – PA