By Rebecca Black, PA
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he wants a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women.
He described it as a problem that can only be solved by all of society.
The Taoiseach was speaking in the Dáil the day after the funeral of Ashling Murphy, a young teacher who was murdered while out running in Co Offaly last week.
Mr Martin, who attended the funeral, said on behalf of his Government he wanted to convey profound sympathy and sorrow to her family, partner, colleagues, pupils and the wider community.
He was challenged by Sinn Féin president Mary-Lou McDonald to take action now, including establishing a new unit in his department and obtaining better data on gender-based crime.
He described her death as a “dark moment in Ireland’s history”.
“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,” he told TDs.
“Deputies will be aware that, led by (Justice) Minister (Helen) 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 under way for the last 12 months and it is approaching a 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.”
The Taoiseach described a new strategy in formulation as structured around four pillars – prevention, protection, 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,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Martin said that the strategy would be “appropriately resourced”.
Also addressing the Dáil, Ms McEntee said she is leading work on the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, which has been going on for a year.
She said a change in culture was needed, including the calling out of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, dressing room, pub, golf club and WhatsApp groups.
She also called for early intervention to educate boys from primary school on healthy relationships, gender equality and consent.
Ms McEntee said her department is to launch a national campaign on consent, will publish a new hate crime bill in the summer and a new sexual offences bill before the end of September.
Sinn Féin president Mary-Lou McDonald described women feeling “frightened, angry, worn out and tired” following Ms Murphy’s murder.
“We are again overwhelmed by the violation, pain and loss from the epidemic of male violence that blights our lives every single day,” she said.
“Generations of Irish women have been forced to live alongside this abuse – abuse behind closed doors at home and in public spaces.”
Ms McDonald, describing an “unmeasured crisis”, said the vast majority of abuse is never reported and never officially recorded.
“This terrible moment must spark real change in our society, but we can’t do it without a government which is truly committed to ending violence against women,” she said, saying every rape crisis centre needs enough funding to answer every call.
“There are things that Government can do today to make things better. The first is to commit to fully implement, resource and support the third strategy on domestic sexual and gender-based violence when it is published in March.
“We in Sinn Féin have also called for the establishment of a unit in the Department of the Taoiseach to co-ordinate the decision-making policy and legislation that is currently so fragmented across Government departments and agencies.”
Ms McDonald also called for better data on gender-based crime and the addressing of the crisis in refuge places.