Once again it has taken a tragedy for us to see things clearly

Ashling Murphy’s death has focused minds in a way goodwill alone could not

Floral tributes laid at the Grand Canal in Tullamore, Co Offaly, where primary school teacher Ashling Murphy was killed  on Wednesday January 12th. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Floral tributes laid at the Grand Canal in Tullamore, Co Offaly, where primary school teacher Ashling Murphy was killed on Wednesday January 12th. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

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An Arabic proverb says that “hearing is not like seeing”. Despite the best efforts of activists and entire bodies of evidence-based policy, tragedy seems to be the only way we learn at times.

Nearly every major step forward in modern Irish history has its roots in tragedy.

It took Ann Lovett’s needless death in the grotto to change our attitudes towards teenage pregnancy, Declan Flynn’s death at the hands of a homophobic mob to sow the seeds of Dublin Pride, the untimely passing of Savita Halappanavar to cement the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

This last week, it seems tragedy has once more provided us with a focus and sense of purpose for social change that goodwill alone could not.

Though the far-right shamelessly sought to make political capital of the fact that the arrested man was not born in Ireland, the truth is far more harrowing

The tragic death of Ashling Murphy is both personal and public. For her family, for her boyfriend, her friends and colleagues and her young students, they have lost a beautiful presence in their lives that can never be replaced.

They must be allowed the space and the time to grieve and to process this senseless loss. But it feels personal for all of us: for women across the country who know how easily it could have been them.

It feels personal for those of us on the frontline too, doctors and nurses who treat victims of domestic abuse in our hospitals, faith and community leaders like myself who provide counselling and pastoral support.

We know that violence against women is a pandemic since time eternal but, unlike Covid-19, there are no daily case numbers on the news, no government apps to help women stay safe.

Like the Aids epidemic of the 1980s, it seems things only truly become a priority for governments when the already statistically safe are affected.

These structural biases are not merely theoretical; they have real-life negative impacts on those affected.

One in four women in Ireland who have been in a relationship have been abused by a current or former partner; 36.3 million people are estimated to have died of the Aids epidemic.

Race biases persist too. An innocent man of eastern European origin was arrested on suspicion of Ashling Murphy’s murder and his details leaked on social media.

Though the far-right shamelessly sought to make political capital of the fact that the arrested man was not born in Ireland, the truth is far more harrowing: while perpetrators are of all backgrounds, women of colour are more likely to be victims of violence both globally and here in Ireland.

Two Muslim women – Seema Banu and Zeinat Dashabsheh – represent 20 per cent of the women killed violently in the State in 2020 and 2021. For context, Muslims represented 1.3 per cent of our population at the time of the 2016 census and the best estimates place the current figure at about 3 per cent.

While welcoming Minister for Justice Helen McEntee’s pledge of a multi-level strategy to tackle violence against women, women of colour must not be forgotten or an afterthought in this process.

Progress has been made – the appointment of an inspiring Pakistani-Irish woman, Fahmeda Naheed, as a diversity officer in An Garda Síochána is a move of which we can all be proud – but more must be done, and quickly.

The Minister must ensure the next Garda recruitment drive delivers more female, LGBTQI+ and ethnic minority gardaí to our local stations and streets. Research has constantly proven that diverse workforces provide a diversity of understanding, empathy, approaches and cultural currency that increases effectiveness and improves outcomes.

Nowhere is this more essential than in our approach to policing.

Women of colour are often uniquely vulnerable due to dependency on their spouses’ immigration status and income.

The Government should prioritise training and employment opportunities for these communities and ensure recourse to public funds and flexibility in the immigration process for such women; providing them with economic independence and the confidence to report abuse and violence safe in the knowledge that they will not be separated from their children or returned to their country of origin.

Ireland has undergone countless social, economic and demographic changes over the last few decades.

As we shed the sexual repression and clerical control of the past, the time has come for us to abandon the fatalistic instinct of waiting for tragedy to deliver social change.

We have had enough tragedy: Ashling, Savita, Seema, Zeinat and so many more besides.

For them, let us mean it when we say, not one more. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha dílse.

Shaykh Dr Umar al-Qadri is the chairman of the Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council and head imam at the Islamic Centre of Ireland, Blanchardstown

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