Dáil Statement by the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin T.D. on violence against women
Published on: 19 January 2022
It was around this time last week that Ashling Murphy went out for a run in Tullamore.
At the start of her career and at the start of a New Year, Ashling was in the prime of her life and was looking forward to the time ahead.
But, as we all know, this talented and beautiful young woman never made it home.
On behalf of everyone in Government and everyone in this House, I wish to convey my profound sympathy and sorrow to Ashling’s family and partner, her friends, colleagues, pupils and the wider community in which she played such an active part.
As a country we have learned something of Ashling’s life over the past week, a life which was evidently so rich and full of accomplishments, and we may feel that we got to know this talented and gifted teacher and musician a little.
The tragedy, of course, is that we will never learn what else Ashling would have achieved, how many more lives she would have enriched.
The grief Ashling’s family is feeling is indescribable.
Her entire community are bereft.
I am so sorry that this has happened to the Murphy family, that this dark moment in Ireland’s history has taken this vivacious and creative young woman from them. May Ashling rest in peace.
This shocking crime has left the entire country devastated and given rise to legitimate questions about whether we are doing enough to prevent violence against women.
One week on from Ashling’s murder, I think it is important and appropriate that the House meets to discuss what needs to be done. A lot of work has already been done and more is underway, but everyone in this House has a perspective and an input to make.
I want to assure Deputies that the Government is open to all constructive suggestions for how Ireland can eradicate violence against women and ensure everything possible is done to prevent a crime of this nature happening again.
Our primary and necessary response to Ashling’s death is 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.
Deputies will be aware that, led by Minister McEntee’s department, we have been working on a new whole-of-government strategy to combat domestic, sexual, gender-based violence. Work on this project has been underway for the last twelve months and it is approaching conclusion.
The fundamental goal of this strategy echoes so much of what has been asked for in recent days: zero tolerance of violence against women.
Implementation of the strategy will be driven by the Minister for Justice.
The Department of Justice will also assume responsibility for services for victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, in addition to policy responsibility.
A detailed plan for how this will work is in preparation and will be brought to Government for decision.
The Cabinet Committee on Social Affairs and Equality, chaired by me, will be fully utilised to bring a dedicated focus to domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence with oversight from my Department.
Let there be no doubt – the full support of the Office of the Taoiseach will be given to this priority area and will play a key role in ensuring all Departments deliver on their commitments.
The new strategy recognises this is a problem that can only be solved by all of society and the Government working together – it is not simply a criminal justice issue.
The new strategy will be structured around four pillars -
- Prosecution and
- Co-ordinated Policies.
The strategy has been developed in partnership with those involved in protecting and supporting women to ensure it is targeted, comprehensive and effective in achieving all of the goals set out.
To help ensure its focus is where it really needs to be, in the coming weeks, Minister McEntee will be inviting feedback through a targeted public consultation process on the final draft of the strategy.
The finalised strategy is expected to be brought to Government in early March.
The discussion today about what our next steps need to be is critically important, but I also want to inform Deputies and the public of important work that is ongoing in this area.
We continue to drive forward the government’s plan to support victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases, Supporting a Victim’s Journey.
The plan is being implemented so that victims of a crime can come forward safe in the knowledge that the system will support them.
Its implementation is instrumental in ensuring we have a criminal justice system that works for vulnerable victims at every stage of their journey.
A system that supports vulnerable victims and empowers them to report offences - knowing they will be supported, informed and treated respectfully throughout the criminal justice process – that is what we are striving for and working towards.
There have also been some important legislative advancements in this area in recent years.
The commencement of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 on 1 January 2019 created a number of significant improvements, including the offence of coercive control.
It recognises in law the devastating impact that emotional abuse can have on those it is inflicted upon.
The enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 introduced a statutory definition of consent to a sexual act.
Minister McEntee prioritised the enactment of Coco’s Law, which outlawed image-based sexual abuse, and in February last year the Minister signed an order which brought this important new law into force.
Coco’s Law outlawed image-based sexual abuse, broadened the existing offence of harassment and increased the maximum penalty for harassment from 7 years to 10 years to reflect the harm caused by the most serious forms of harassment.
The proposed hate crime legislation will create new, specific hate aggravated offences for crimes motivated by prejudice against certain characteristics. The new offences will carry tougher sentences than ordinary forms of crime and gender will be one of those characteristics.
Education and awareness raising have also played an important part of the Government’s fight against sexual and gender-based violence, and that will continue with the new strategy.
Over the past number of years, the Department of Justice has been working to raise awareness generally about how we, as a society, need to stop excusing unacceptable behaviour.
The ‘No Excuses’ campaign, for example, highlighted this determination to challenge people and the culture, prejudice and values that allow any form of sexual harassment or sexual violence. And education is key.
This education needs to start from primary school up. Using appropriate material, it should encompass subjects such as healthy relationships, gender equality and respect and an understanding of consent.
And it needs to continue throughout the education journey and into the workplace.
Preventing abusive behaviour will require the eradication of certain social and cultural attitudes held by many men which contribute to women feeling unsafe.
To be frank, we need a sea change in culture and attitude in our society.
As men, we need to listen to women and we need to hear what they are saying.
Misogyny is simply unacceptable, and it needs to be eliminated from our society.
We all know there is no single solution to ending Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence.
Tackling it requires a multifaceted approach with genuine engagement and partnership. We need sufficient supports and services available throughout the country, appropriate legislation, an effective policing response and the culture shift within our society that I referenced earlier. I can assure you that this Government is working to achieve these goals, and our focus is fixed.
This Government also understands that resources are fundamental to tackling this issue. As we have demonstrated in Budget 2022 and as we will continue to demonstrate, this effort will be appropriately resourced.
It is important to note that knowledge and information are essential to developing effective policies to prevent and combat sexual violence, and important work is underway in that regard.
The SAVI Report which was commissioned by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and first published in 2002 was a really important and ground-breaking piece of research. 20 years on, it is important that we get up-to-date information and research.
This Government has engaged the CSO to develop and deliver a significant new national survey on the prevalence of sexual violence in Ireland.
It will look in detail at the experience of sexual violence and abuse for both women and men in Ireland, and we will also be open to other ideas on how we ensure we are working from best-in-class research.
It is really important that we have a solid evidence base to guide us in developing policies and legislation.
To conclude my opening remarks Ceann Comhairle, Ashling’s death has shocked our nation.
We have spent much of the past week questioning ourselves, questioning our friends, questioning wider society. Mainly we are questioning our attitudes towards women.
Are we doing anything to help? Are we doing enough to help?
Are we part of the problem? How can we be part of the solution?
Zero tolerance of violence against women is the goal.
It is a necessary and fundamental objective of a safe and mature democracy. And it must be the target for our Republic.
By continuing to work together I am confident we can get there.
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.