Wednesday, 19 January 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence
It is vitally important that at the first opportunity in this Chamber we rise to our feet and raise with the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy Browne, the recent horrific and tragic killing of Ashling Murphy. Our hearts go out to her family, her partner, her friends and her community who are all grieving this loss. As a nation we are heartbroken for the life stolen from Ashling, but as women we are furious that we are not safe in our communities. That anger must now turn to action. As a country we never want to see again something like this happen. We must put an end to violence against women in this country and all forms of it.
My question for the Minister of State is what is our Government's plan? Will he outline to us in this Chamber what specific actions he, his Department, and our Government will take in the coming weeks and months to put an end to violence against women in this country?
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. In the few moments I have him, I wish to ask him what he is going to do. Is he going to listen to women? Is he going to listen to expert groups like Safe Ireland which has endlessly written reports such as No Going Back.It would be great for the Minister of State, and for all the women of Ireland, if he would listen to organisations like Safe Ireland. Before the Minister of State answers our questions, I ask him to think of the girls, the vulnerable women, the girls and the women we have lost in this country and the women and girls who are afraid to go out on the streets today, to go home or to go on public transport. We do not need fancy words or plámás, or to be told that we will make things better. We need action and tough action very quickly.
We gather here today with a sadder and number sense of public representation since the last day that we spoke due to the horrific murder of Ashling Murphy. We cannot and will not ignore what happened. The women and men of Ireland came together in solidarity with the Murphy family and many of us attended vigils outside of Leinster House and all around the country last week. All of those vigils were very moving. The hurt, anger and sorrow was palpable. Thousands of people had gathered but one could hear a pin drop.
As a person, I am horrified; as an aunt and friend to young women, I am frightened; as a woman, I am furious, but as a legislator, I am determined to respond. We are privileged to be elected to this House to serve the people of this country and to act on their behalf. What was so clear from the vigils around the country was the silent determination of the Irish people to no longer allow this to continue. This must be our Veronica Guerin moment and must mark a distinct turning point in our history where we must ensure that the death of Ashling Murphy does not fade into the history books unanswered. We have a duty in this House today to make it clear that we will act.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. I stand today with colleagues and a nation in expressing my deep sympathy to the family and friends of Ashling Murphy. As a nation we joined in the grief that the family, her friends and community suffered and I hope that that grief and the loss of her life will not go to waste. As legislators in this House and as a House, we need to ensure we are at the very forefront of the discourse to ensure there is a cultural change in our society. We need to discuss topics like consent, access to pornography, looking at our model of education and whether same-sex schools are appropriate, ensuring domestic violence refuges are properly funded, and looking at a dedicated Ministry and Department to end gender-based violence. There are so many things that we can do in this House, not just purely from a legislative perspective but from commencing the discourse and leading civic society along to ensure we see a cultural change towards gender-based violence, as the Taoiseach said in the Dáil earlier. It is incumbent on us as mothers, parents, aunties and uncles to ensure that our daughters and sons know how to treat each other equally and that it transpires down the road that we see this cultural change. I join again with the family in expressing our deep sympathies to them. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.
On behalf of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, who unfortunately cannot attend today, I thank the Senators for raising this very serious topic. I know that the Minister has offered to come into this House as early as possible and at a date that can be agreed to make statements.
I want to begin by offering my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Ashling Murphy and her community as they mourn and grieve the loss of a much-loved and talented young woman. Her funeral mass yesterday heard that her death had taken the life of a talented, loved and admired teacher and musician, but had since united the entire country in grief and support.
There is a real determination now that we must come together to demand zero tolerance of violence against women. Along with her Cabinet colleagues, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, has been working on our new national strategy to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, and it will be published within weeks. The goal of zero tolerance of violence against women is clear. The new strategy recognises, however, that this is a problem that can only be solved by all of society and the Government working together and it is not simply a criminal justice issue. The new strategy will be structured around four pillars or goals: prevention, protection, prosecution and co-ordination of policies.
The prevention goal, for example, involves working towards the eradication of the social and cultural norms - yes, among men - that underpin and contribute to gender-based violence.That means appropriate education from primary school up on healthy relationships, gender equality and consent. It also means calling out inappropriate behaviour when we see it in work, out socialising or in WhatsApp groups.
To protect victims, the new strategy will ensure the right supports are available, such as a refuge space for anyone who needs one. Reforms are under way to ensure victims are treated with professionalism and sensitivity in every interaction with the criminal justice system. We must also prosecute and punish the perpetrators who inflict suffering on so many women; again, our zero-tolerance approach to violence against women will be reflected in the law. This new strategy is being developed in partnership with the sector to ensure it is targeted, comprehensive and effective in achieving all of the goals set out.
There is real determination across the Government, across the sector and, as we have seen in recent days, across society to bring about the change that we need to see. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, welcomes the views, inputs and ideas of all members as we move to finalise the third national strategy, which will have zero tolerance at its centre and which will be the most ambitious national strategy we have seen to date.
On behalf of my colleagues, I thank the Minister of State for his response. We join him in supporting a zero-tolerance approach but we must get a definition for that. What does it mean or what would it look like? We welcome the imminent publication of the national strategy but, again, the devil will be in the detail. What does it suggest, will money be put behind it and how will it be implemented? Let it not be another report or strategy gathering dust somewhere on a shelf. We must see concrete action in the weeks and months ahead, not just in the years ahead.
The Minister of State mentioned women's refuges. There are parts of this country where there is no women's refuge for women to access. We know prevention is key, and that will mean working closely with the Department of Education on a whole-of-government response to put in place a programme of education right across our schools. That is something we can put on the table in the coming months and we look forward to seeing that proposal before this House at the earliest opportunity.
On behalf of all colleagues in the House, I extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the Murphy family, her partner, her friends and her community. It is an horrific loss. We hope they can, in time, heal as a community.
On behalf of the Minister, I thank Senators for raising this very serious matter. We all know there is no single solution to ending violence against women and tackling it requires a multifaceted approach, with genuine engagement and partnership across all sectors of our society. We need sufficient supports and services available throughout the country, appropriate legislation, an effective policing response and a cultural shift within our society, as I referenced earlier.
I assure Senators that the Government is working to achieve these goals and when the strategy is published, it will come with an implementation plan and the necessary supports to ensure it can be implemented as quickly as possible. The recent budget for 2022 provides more than €2 billion in funding for An Garda Síochána, including the provision for recruitment of an additional 800 new gardaí and 400 Garda staff this year. There is an additional €41 million for Tusla that the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, has also secured.
The appalling and tragic death of Ashling Murphy has produced a groundswell of support to bring about change in this area but I must emphasise that while the Government will lead, all members of society have a role in creating a society free from all forms of violence against women. There can be no excuses.