McEntee says gender-based violence strategy will have ‘zero-tolerance’ approach

Tánaiste says the killing of the school teacher is a ‘watershed moment’ for Irish society

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said a "zero-tolerance" approach will be central to a new Government strategy tackling gender-based violence, as the investigation into the murder of Ashling Murphy continues.

Gardaí are still looking for the killer of Ms Murphy, a 23-year-old teacher who was found dead after going for a run on the banks of the Grand Canal in Tullamore.

The murder has caused widespread anger and shock in Ireland and beyond, with tens of thousands of people attending vigils in recent days to remember Ms Murphy.

On Sunday, Ms McEntee said a new Government strategy to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence will be published by the beginning of March.


It would, the Minister said, take a “zero-tolerance” approach to violence against women.

She told Newstalk radio on Sunday: “I think what we’ve seen this week really is an outpouring of grief right across the country from women, men, children, all of whom have come together in solidarity with Ashling’s family and her community.

“But in particular, have come together to demand that there is zero tolerance for this.

“I myself have often decided, ‘well, I’ll go out for a walk at this time of the day or I’ll go to this area because it could be safer’. That shouldn’t be the case.

“And what we’ve seen now is everybody in society coming together to say this should not be the case. We should not tolerate this. What we’ve seen now is everybody in society coming together to say this should not be the case, we should not tolerate this.”

She said the new strategy will build on the previous strategies produced by the Government.

“We’re building on the progress that has been made and we have made progress, but we’re looking at it slightly differently. We have set a clear goal - zero tolerance.”

‘Zero tolerance’

She said all Government departments, State agencies and the gardaí, as well as the wider community, needed to play a role in ensuring the strategy is a success.

Ms McEntee was also asked about the cancellation of hundreds of emergency calls to gardaí in 2019 and 2020, which last year led to a public apology from Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, and whether victims could have confidence in a police response.

“We have all committed collectively to make sure that that does not happen again. And that when somebody takes that difficult step to come forward, that they will be treated with the respect and the dignity and the support that they deserve,” she said.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said neither Government nor society should lose momentum in tackling gender-based violence following the murder of Ms Murphy.

He said described her death as a “watershed moment” for Irish society and said the Government was determined to take the lead on responding to it.

“I hope that this can be a watershed moment. And I hope that we don’t lose the momentum perhaps that’s been generated by the extraordinary public response to what’s happened.

“The Government has to lead on that and we will. We have already done things like amend the law around consent; ratified the Istanbul Convention on gender-based violence; increased resources for the gardaí so they can establish a Special Victims unit in every division.

“Helen McEntee is showing a lot of leadership on this and we’ll have our new strategy on gender based violence quite soon.”

‘Practical measures’

In an interview with RTÉ’s This Week, Mr Varadkar was asked what practical measures would be implemented.

“There is prevention, which is really important. There’s protection, there is prosecution, and there’s also policy coordination. So you need to take action in all of those areas…

“I think we need to act as a society as well. Government can and will lead, but we also need to act as a society and that’s particularly true of men.

Because all of us need to think again about the kind of culture that leads to violence against women, and what we teach our boys.”

He said the new strategy would be backed up by “real money and real resources.”

It is understood that gardaí have identified a new person of interest, who is believed to be in hospital in the Dublin region receiving medical care, and are waiting to speak to him.

On Sunday, Opposition parties stressed the need for urgent Government action to prevent violence against women.

Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion said her party believes there needs to be a centralised approach to tackling the issue.

She said too often responsibilities and roles are split between departments and agencies.

“We need a joined up, integrated approach where things don’t fall between two stools,” she told RTÉ’s The Week In Politics programme.

On the same programme, Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore said: "We need the Government to have a very, very clear focus to work to resolve these issues.

“A society where 50 per cent of the population are scared to go out walking by themselves at night is a dysfunctional society.”

Ms Murphy's funeral will take place on Tuesday at St Brigid's Church, Mountbolus, in Co Offaly.

The Garda said it had made “significant progress” in its investigation, but was not releasing details for operational reasons. - Additional reporting PA

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times