Funding, policies and education: Suggestions for change after Ashling Murphy killing

Survivor services, academics, campaigners, and politicians set out what should be done

People gather for a vigil at Leinster House, Dublin, for the murdered Ashling Murphy. Thousands of people attended vigils and memorials for the school teacher and musician over the weekend. Photograph: PA

People gather for a vigil at Leinster House, Dublin, for the murdered Ashling Murphy. Thousands of people attended vigils and memorials for the school teacher and musician over the weekend. Photograph: PA

 

In the wake of the killing of Ashling Murphy, in Tullamore, Co Offaly, vigils across the country heard calls for the young teacher’s death to be a watershed moment, or turning point, in tackling gender-based violence.

Here, survivor services, academics, campaigners, and politicians set out the changes that could be made:

Double State funding to sexual and domestic violence services

Dr Clíona Saidlear, executive director of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, says Ireland was “below par” when it came to the funding and provision of sexual violence supports and services.

Properly addressing gender-based violence would be a “massive job of social engineering and societal change,” requiring a well-resourced network of frontline services, Dr Saidlear says.

Introduce sexual harassment policy in schools

Dr Saidlear also believes the Department of Education should draw up a national policy to address sexual harassment in secondary schools, with the aim of introducing a “zero tolerance” culture.

This plan, similar to recent efforts across third-level education, would set out a standard approach for how complaints of sexual harassment were handled.

At present girls were effectively taught to “tolerate sexual violence and harassment, and we are teaching boys that they can get away with it,” she says.

Fully implement new gender-based violence strategy

Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, says there has to be “very clear responsibilities” for the implementation of the Government’s third national strategy on sexual and gender-based violence, due to be released in coming weeks.

“That means one Government department and one Minister. We would like to see it assigned to the Department of Justice with a very clear remit, because at the moment there is no clear line of responsibility, it’s split in too many different places and things fall through the cracks,” she says.

Set up task force to address male violence

The Government should set up a cross-departmental “high level task force” to lead reforms to tackle male violence against women, feminist campaigner Ailbhe Smyth believes.

“We need to ensure there is adequate funding and for different departments that need to be involved to coordinate. This is a social issue, a health issue and an education issue,” she says.

Rather than a dedicated new department, a special unit within the Department of the Taoiseach to drive change “might fit the bill,” she says.

“If nothing else this year, we should fulfil our commitment to the Istanbul convention,” which set standards to combat domestic violence, Ms Smyth says.

Include consent in the curriculum

The current “void” of proper education around sex and consent in secondary school needs to be addressed, with the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum brought into “the 21st century”, according to Elaine Healy Byrnes, an NUI Galway academic who has written a PhD on consent.

Healy Byrnes says long-awaited RSE reform should include requirements to teach pupils about consent and respect in relationships, with proper support for teachers to do so.

Part of the problem lies with the slow pace of the Catholic Church divestment of school patronage, leaving religious ethos to often clash with modern approaches to teaching students about sex and relationships, she says.

More mixed secondary schools

The majority of secondary schools should be mixed, rather than single-sex, according to Colm O’Connor, principal of Cork Educate Together secondary school.

“I’ve worked in single-sex and co-ed schools for a decade each, and there is no comparison in terms of gender relations,” Mr O’Connor says. “In co-ed schools empathy is easier to build as male, female and trans students learn about each other’s lives and challenges together,” he says.

Run a public information campaign tackling misogyny

A sustained public information campaign targeting sexism and misogyny should be rolled out, similar to successful advertising campaigns aimed at drink driving, Labour TD Ivana Bacik says.