McEntee calls for ‘societal and cultural change’ to tackle violence against women

Killing of Ashling Murphy has been a ‘watershed moment’, says Taoiseach

The Dáil has heard  statements from a number of TDs on violence against women  following the murder of Ashling Murphy a week ago. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Dáil has heard statements from a number of TDs on violence against women following the murder of Ashling Murphy a week ago. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins


New criminal offences for stalking and non-fatal strangulation will be included in a bill to be published before Easter, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said.

Ms McEntee said more needs to be done to tackle violence and abuse against women and “societal and cultural change” is required.

She was addressing the Dáil on Wednesday, where a number of TDs made statements on violence against women following the murder of Ashling Murphy a week ago.

Ms Murphy (23) was killed while out jogging along the canal bank at Cappincur, Tullamore in Co Offaly last Wednesday. She was a national school teacher and a talented musician and camogie player.

Ms McEntee said while the act of stalking is already covered in existing law, she will bring forward changes to “make the law clearer and stronger”.

This includes explicitly referencing stalking as a criminal offence and updating the law to make sure it includes all forms of modern communications.

The changes would also make it clear that stalking includes watching or following a victim, even where they are not aware of being watched or followed and that impersonating a victim, and then communicating with a third party, is illegal.

“I will also consider introducing a provision to allow a victim, in very serious cases, apply to the court for an order to prevent the alleged perpetrator from communicating with them in advance of a trial,” Ms McEntee said.

The Minister said that she could not stand in the Dáil and say “never again”, that no woman will again “suffer at the hands of a man”.

Pain and anger

“What we can do is commit to Ashling, to so many other women, and to each other that we will dedicate ourselves to the long and difficult path of change,” she said.

“We know pain and anger only too well but let all of us hold on to the determination and solidarity of this week, and join together in a common cause, that we come together to demand zero tolerance of violence and abuse against women.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said “a sea change in culture and attitude” in society is needed.

“As men, we need to listen to women and we need to hear what they are saying,” he said. “Misogyny is simply unacceptable, and it needs to be eliminated from our society.”

Mr Martin said the Government’s “primary and necessary response” to Ms Murphy’s death was clear. “We want and need a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women and this will require all of us, as a society, to commit to lasting change”.

He said the Department of Justice has been working on a new whole-of-government strategy to combat domestic, sexual, gender-based violence over the last 12 months and is approaching conclusion.

“The appalling and tragic death of Ashling Murphy has touched everyone. It has galvanised our national determination to bring about change in this area. We can and must do it. Enough is enough,” he concluded.

Shared experience

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said physical violence and emotional coercive control is “the shared experience of far too many women”. She said women have the right to be safe no matter where they are or what they are doing.

“How and where we choose to live our lives or spend our time or how we decide to dress is irrelevant. The length of our skirt or how we wear a top is not an invitation to grope us,” Ms McDonald said.

“Women having fun in a nightclub is not a signal to rape us. Walking or jogging alone by ourselves is not a green light to murder us and yet the warped and twisted logic of misogyny conjures up this notion that a woman is asking for it.

“Asking for what exactly - to have our lives shattered, to be traumatised, to die? What we are asking for and indeed what we demand is that men stop inflicting awful violence on us.”

Minister of State for Disability Anne Rabbitte described her own personal experience of receiving a phone call while she was in her bed at 3am from a man who was “violent and determined”.

“’We know where you are, you need to back off the lines. We will get you.’ My voice catches in my throat, I can’t breathe. I say nothing. ‘Are you hearing me? We will get you.’ Then silence, just me on my own, in the darkness,” Ms Rabbitte said.

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said legislators have a responsibility to do more than “merely express our sadness”.

“We must direct State resources to dismantle the culture that underpins violence against women,” she said. “Most disgracefully, the necessary actions are known but successive Governments have continually failed to provide the range of measures necessary.”