By Dominic McGrath, PA
Politicians backed a cross-party approach to tackle male violence against women, in the wake of the murder of Ashling Murphy.
The Dáil returned with a sombre leaders’ questions which focused on the need to eliminate violence against women, a day after the funeral of the 23-year-old old teacher was held in Co Offaly.
The body of Ms Murphy, a talented musician and teacher, was found on the banks of the Grand Canal in Tullamore last Wednesday.
The Dáil heard tributes to Ms Murphy and expressions of condolence to her family, amid calls for cross-party cooperation to protect women.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin backed a call from Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald for a meeting of party leaders on the issue.
Ms McDonald told the Dáil on Wednesday: “Ashling Murphy was not the first woman to die in a random attack.”
“Others have met violent deaths going to work, coming home, in daylight and in dark.
“The outpouring of grief and anger across the land is powerful expression of solidarity with the Murphy family who now face the unimaginable heartbreak of coming to terms with life without Ashling.
“The streams of stories, personal experiences and traumatic narratives that flood our airwaves is stark testimony that male violence against women, harassment of women, degradation of women, is endemic, pervasive and ever present in Irish life,” Ms McDonald said.
She urged the Government to take the opportunity to deliver a culture shift across Irish society.
“We now stand at a crossroads, and there is a choice to be made.
“We must choose action. United, persistent action to end the violence, the threat of violence, the fear of violence, that blights the lives of women and girls, we must make that choice, and we must mean it.”
The Taoiseach, who attended the funeral of Ms Murphy in the small village of Mountbolus on Tuesday, said that he had been touched by the “extraordinary embeddedness of the Murphy family and of Ashling herself in a wider community”.
Backing the Sinn Féin call for a meeting of party leaders, he said he wanted a “cross-party” approach as his Government prepares to publish a new strategy in March to tackle gender-based violence.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee will be responsible for ensuring that the targets contained in the strategy are met, Mr Martin said.
He said that there needs to be “a cross-party Oireachtas approach, mirroring what society wants to do and in that context men need to listen more and men need to hear women more in terms of this issue”.
Ms McDonald told Mr Martin: “This isn’t a moment for party politics, this isn’t a moment for division.
“This is a moment for unity.”
“Because the danger is, when the shock lessens, when the grief, the initial grief subsides, when the headlines have been written, when the cameras go away and that poor family are left with the awfulness of their loss, the real test will be what we do in a year.”
Other politicians on Wednesday paid tribute to Ms Murphy.
Labour leader Alan Kelly said that the “terrible tragedy” had touched the entire country.
“The word watershed is often used here for many different things.
“This has to be a watershed moment,” he told the Dáil.
People Before Profit TD Brid Smith told the chamber that violence against women “is a universal experience, and we need to own up to the universality of the oppression of women”.
The current provision of refuge for women facing domestic violence is not good enough, she said.
She urged the Taoiseach to give Government backing to bill that would reform Irish sexual education, which has been left sitting in the legislative system for several years.
That bill, she said, ensures sex education is delivered without input from a school’s religious ethos.
Mr Martin, without promising to back the Bill, said that he agreed that sex education should not be based on a school ethos, but said that the issue could not be solved by legislation alone.
He said that there needs to be “capacity, supports for those who teach and provide the curriculum”.
The Taoiseach suggested making modules on relationship and sexuality a core part of the curriculum in teacher training colleges.
“I would have to stress that it has to be a suite of an overarching package that involves the curriculum itself and the capacity to deliver in the classroom. That is the key.”