Seanad debates

Thursday, 27 January 2022

Violence Against Women: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, to the House for statements on violence against women. I thank the Minister for being here to discuss this very important topic.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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The senseless killing of Ashling Murphy two weeks ago took a wonderful young woman from her family and from her wider community. It also led to an outpouring of grief the length and breadth of the country.

In thinking of Ashling, we also remember Urantsetseg Tserendorj, Jastine Valdez, Ana Kriégel, Nadine Lott, and so many other women who have been, and are, victims of violence against women. As we grieved for Ashling, I believe that as a society we have also determined that we will no longer tolerate violence and abuse against women, and we all now share the same goal that there must be zero tolerance of violence against women.

The clear commitment from every person to do what it takes at an individual and a collective level, to work towards our aim of zero tolerance for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, shows that as a society we have indeed had enough. We, as political leaders, must lead on this, but there is no one thing we can do or no one law we can pass. No one group, no one organisation and no one policy will achieve this aim. This is a shared responsibility. Everyone has a role in creating a society free from all forms of violence against women. Everyone has a role in ensuring the focus and determination we have seen over the past fortnight is maintained.

As the Minister for Justice, my role will include overseeing the third national strategy to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, and driving its implementation. This new plan will set an overall goal of zero tolerance in respect of violence and abuse against women. It will be based on the four key pillars of the Istanbul Convention: prevention; prosecution; protection; and policy co-ordination. Prevention in this context will, of course, include education and, as ever, education is absolutely key. We have programmes that work, and we must ensure they are implemented across our education system from primary to third level. Again, no one grouping has responsibility. That education piece must take place outside of the schools too, in our homes, our workplaces and where we socialise.

Over the past number of years, my Department has worked to raise awareness generally about how we, as a society, need to stop excusing unacceptable behaviour. Campaigns like No Excuses highlight our determination to challenge people and the culture, prejudice and values that allow any form of sexual harassment or sexual violence. Our forthcoming programmes, such as the campaign on consent and healthy relationships, will continue raising these very difficult topics. We will keep working with society to change behaviours with a view to decreasing instances of sexual violence and to make sure that victims know what supports are available to them.

I will also continue working to reform our justice system to ensure that vulnerable victims are met with sensitivity, respect and professionalism on every step of their difficult and brave journey. The ongoing implementation of Supporting a Victim's Journey seeks to improve the criminal justice system at every single point a victim comes into contact with it, through actions such as training for gardaí, legal professionals and the Judiciary.

Protection also includes ensuring that when women take the difficult step to come forward, any supports they need are in place. That might be a refuge space, financial supports or health supports. It might be supporting more women to live safely in their homes if that, is their choice. Whatever it is, we must ensure that those supports are there.

The new strategy will contain practical steps for the delivery of additional refuge spaces, for example. The strategy will be underpinned by clear actions, timelines for reform and robust accountability mechanisms. It will be resourced as it should be.

As part of the prosecution element, I will focus on strengthening legislation in this area. In the coming months, I will move to create a new criminal offence of non-fatal strangulation and, as we discussed in the House earlier, I will work with Senator Chambers and others to create a new criminal offence for stalking. Both offences are covered by existing law, but we want to ensure that the law is strong and clear. I want to encourage victims to come forward. We can do so by strengthening the law.

Later this year I will publish a new hate crime Bill that will introduce new, specific aggravated offences with enhanced penalties for crimes motivated by prejudice against certain characteristics, including gender. This will mean that certain types of crimes can be prosecuted as hate crimes where they are motivated by misogyny. I will also publish a new sexual offences Bill, which will introduce important changes including extending victim anonymity to further categories of victims, and legal representation for victims. I will shortly sign an order to bring into operation the Criminal Procedure Act 2021 allowing for pretrial hearings. This will, I hope, reduce delays in the trial process that might otherwise re-traumatise vulnerable victims.

Under the policy co-ordination pillar we will bring all of our efforts together. At Government level, we will make sure that we are working with, and listening to, our partners who deliver services and work with victims on the front line. Our work will continue to be driven by their expertise and understanding. This will ensure we are more co-ordinated and more effective in our approach and our responses. Following consultation with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, it has been decided that the responsibility for policy and service provision for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence will be combined under the Department of Justice. Work is under way on how this will be structured, and the Taoiseach has already indicated that his office will also play a key role in this. We will announce further details in the coming weeks on how this will work.

This new strategy will be a living, breathing document. It will evolve and it will improve as we continue to live and learn from experience. An important part of that will be driven by the different viewpoints we hear, and particularly by the insights of victims and survivors. As I said earlier, it is so important that in everything we do we listen to the lived experience, good, bad or indifferent.

As I noted earlier, everyone has a role to play in this work. Over the past fortnight we have clearly seen a desire for change. We have heard it in these Houses, we have heard it on the streets, and we have heard it on the airwaves. I know I speak for the vast majority of society when I say we have been deeply moved and troubled by the sometimes harrowing, and always affecting, stories and recollections of the personal experiences that have come from so many women of all ages and backgrounds, and, indeed, from so many women in this Chamber and in the Dáil.

While as a Government we are progressing and prioritising work in this area, we are of course ready to listen to any thoughts, ideas and recommendations from Members of this House. I will also conduct further consultation on the strategy in the weeks ahead. I encourage people to make their views known. It is absolutely clear to me that at present there is a focus, a determination and an absolute urgency in the work we are doing in this area. We must channel that carefully and strategically to get to where we want to be, which is a society that has zero tolerance for any kind of violence or abuse against women. I have said that this path to change will be long and difficult, which it will be, but I believe that by working together we can bring about change. Fear of harassment and violence should never be normalised and nobody should have to go about their daily life thinking about how they can keep themselves safe. It is simply not acceptable. By working together we can achieve that zero tolerance and we can bring about change for the better.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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The Minister is welcome. In the first instance, I recognise her commitment to this issue. I am aware that she has advanced a number of policy initiatives and policies that put this at the centre of her term as Minister for Justice. I pay tribute to the fact that the Minister has put this front and centre and that she has shown a commitment to dealing with the issues as discussed in her speech.

It is undeniable that the Minister is a woman, and it is undeniable that when this debate comes up women flock to the Chamber to say what they have to say. Unfortunately, some of them have experience in this regard and they share that experience with us. We have had the experience in these Houses of women sharing appalling things with us.

To an extent, women are not at the core of this issue because the role for answering this issue lies with my sex, with men. All too often, male colleagues are unwilling to come here and to acknowledge the difficulties and the horrors of what it is we are talking about. In the aftermath of the conversations we have had in recent days and weeks, many men have come to me talk to me about this. Some of them have expressed how uncomfortable this conversation is for them. Some expressed not just discomfort but outrage at the extent of the conversation. One of them said that if a man does not support this kind of thing and does not in any way endorse violence against women or the kinds of behaviour we are talking about, then it should not trigger him and he should not be afraid of having this conversation. We should be willing to stand up and acknowledge the fact that in the vast majority of cases it is not women who are perpetrating violence against women, it is men. This does not mean that all men are bad and it does not mean that all men do it, but it does mean that all men must take responsibility.It means that when our friends, our sisters, our mothers or our colleagues who are female say something to us, we must listen and not dismiss it. We must not dismiss it and say that it will be grand or it is not that big a deal. It is that big a deal. If we did not know before Ashling Murphy’s murder, we must know now and we must have heard the countless examples of women affected by these issues. There is a spectrum from verbal harassment and psychological abuse to the appalling rapes and murders that we hear about in the media. Everything on that spectrum is wrong and needs to be treated seriously and to be dealt with by the State, of course, and by our laws, but also by men as members of society. We must accept responsibility to step in.

Some of the things that were said in the past number of weeks were that men need, not just to step in when they see something happening but to step in when one sees the genesis of something happening, such as sexist jokes, harassment, jibes and comments that are passed on unthinkingly. It is the responsibility of every man who cares about this issue and who accepts that it is an issue, to interrupt that and to stand up and say that that is not okay. One does not have to make a big deal and embarrass people but if a person feels that they cannot say it there and then, to take that person aside afterwards and say that that person cannot do that because even though that person may not understand it, it has a knock-on effect which is extraordinarily damaging.

We will undoubtedly hear harrowing accounts today from people who have had constituents or friends contact them but whatever happens today I know in the first instance that the Minister is committed to this issue and that gives me great solace because I already believe she has had some good wins in this. Even today we had progress with Senator Chambers's Bill being passed on Committee Stage.

We are making progress and I have confidence that we will make greater progress. Everyone of us has heard those stories from our friends who walk around at night with their keys held in a certain way, or go on the phone so that anyone around will think that they are talking to somebody, or who get into a taxi and immediately call a friend to give the number of the taxi that they are in, in case anything happens. To ignore these stories is as bad as to be involved. It is incumbent on us all to listen to them, to take them seriously and to help the Minister in whatever way we can to create an official as well as a personal response to those stories to ensure that every woman in Ireland feels the safety and security that she is entitled to, and that many of us as men feel already. We must also ensure that the envelope of security is both personal and official and that women can feel safe in Ireland again, as they always should have been able to do. Gabhaim buíochas.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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I thank the Minister for her statement today. I spoke after our recess about how the media coverage of the senseless murder of Ashling Murphy caused so many people to be aware of it and started so many national conversations around the treatment and experiences of women in this country. The flipside of this, of course, is that so often the long-term issues and the constant problems do not make the headlines yet these too must be part of the conversation. I do not think that we are experiencing an epidemic of male violence and that there has been a surge in violent gender-based crime. I am open to being wrong on that front; I simply have not seen the figures to that effect but I know that women suffer every day in this country. It is the case that this suffering will never make the headlines because of the simple fact that it goes unreported, unseen and unknown.

Domestic violence is one of the most horrific experiences that anyone can live through. To have one’s own home, which should be a place of safety and peace, become a place of fear and tension goes against every sense of what is right and just. There will always be more work to be done in combating this crime and everyone has a role to play. Everyone should know the signs of possible abuse happening to friends or family members and they should not be afraid to contact An Garda.

For Government, funding is the bottom line. We have nine counties without crisis refuge centres for people fleeing domestic violence and that needs to be rectified. There was no dedicated line of funding in this year’s budget for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. That must change. Services in this area must be maintained and developed and not depleted or damaged in any way. There should be a higher income threshold for free legal aid for those who require such aid to assist in cases against abusers. We need to facilitate women’s escape from these situations and many women feel that they do not have the means to do so. As has been spoken about over these past few weeks, instances of violence like this do not exist in a vacuum. We need to ask what in our society and in our modern culture brings someone to the stage whereby this behaviour is displayed. What are the building blocks that lead to this?

At the end of the day we can get bogged down in attacking all sorts of facets of Irish society, from male sports to single-sex schools but I believe that that is missing the point. Ultimately, it comes down to respect and to honour. These are two virtues which I feel have been sorely lacking for some time now in our culture. We can do a great deal by instilling a sense of respect in the inherent dignity of every person in our schools. Respect has to be much more a part of what is said at school during the day. Respect has to be part of every situation, every day, both in dealing with children and when children are dealing with each other. We cannot learn to give and show respect if we are not taught it and schools have a very significant role to play in this. New programmes which deal with respect should be introduced to our schools, first explaining and showing the child what respect is, giving examples of it, and pointing out why this is called respect.

Programmes have to include strategies for dealing with inappropriate behaviour towards all people, regardless of gender. All the programmes in the world will be of severely limited use if their messages are being undermined at home. A child can hear respect in school but if they do not see it at home they will never live it out. How do we react in situations of upset, disagreement or dispute? How do we treat people with whom we disagree? Do we interrupt them, shout them down or refuse to listen to another point of view, as happens in this Chamber? Might we choose to honour, to show respect, to engage and, perhaps, work through our differences to the betterment of all? I do not want to see the women of this country merely not being subjected to violence. I want to see them honoured and respected. That is not going to come through legislation, a citizens’ assembly or a “Prime Time” investigation but will come about through the choices that each and every one of us make every day.

A public representative who had gone through the process with regard to violence has raised a number of issues with me about how we might make things better. She wanted to know if it was right that the victim’s medical records should be available in a sexual offences or rape trial? Why is it that the victim of rape or sexual assault can have their privacy violated in such a manner but an offender, on release into the community, has a right to privacy regarding his address?

A “Do not Disturb” sign on the meeting rooms in our Garda stations if a victim comes forward to make a complaint is another such suggestion. These are little things that we can change.

The victim should also be provided with a copy of their statement, as the accused to gets to see it but the victim does not. There should be a clear explanation available to the victim at the Garda station outlining the process involved and legal advice should be provided from the outset. We have a long way to go to protect women and hopefully this is the start of it.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister opened very well when she spoke about the very tragic passing of Ashling Murphy and what that has done for our country in uniting all of us in the joint approach to tackle now the scourge of violence against women in this country.

There are many issues to be tackled, not alone in the legislation, but as I mentioned earlier today, the wraparound services and how we deal with victims when they take that brave step to come forward. I raise directly with the Minister the experience of Councillor Deirdre Donnelly here in Dublin who has gone public with her experience. She experienced a sexual assault and brought the case to An Garda and then on to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. Her experience of going to An Garda was not as good as it could have been. She was repeatedly interrupted while giving her statement. Senator Keogan’s request for a “Do not Disturb” sign on the door is a very logical and small thing that could be done which would make it a much more comfortable experience the person coming forward, the complainant.

To have a consultation with the victim in order to give them a reason as to why, perhaps, the case may not progress could also be very important. Even though the evidential bar to be met is quite high, it does not mean that the victim has not suffered and there is some work to be done there.

I welcome the Minister’s comments around a zero tolerance approach to violence against women but we need to put flesh on the bones there and to outline in greater detail what that actually looks like and means and how we are going to achieve it. It is a very aspirational point we want to get to and it will be a difficult thing to achieve but it is doable. It will take considerable work over many years to get to that point.

As I said, we need wraparound supports. We need to improve the education of our gardaí to deal with these very specific gender-based crimes. That is not at all to criticise An Garda in how it does its work but we are talking about a very specific set of crimes here, with predominantly female complainants.I believe there is an extra sensitivity in how we have to deal with these situations. We also need to improve the access to refuges around the country. A whole swathe of Ireland has no access to a refuge for women. When a woman makes that decision to leave, very often in the dark of night or when there is that little window to get out the door, if she does not have somewhere to go, it can be fatal. That is the level we are talking about. To not have a bed to bring her children to in a safe space is really just inexcusable in this day and age. It is a small amount of money. There should be a sense of urgency, particularly around that point, to get those refuges up and running. Every moment we talk about it, there is a woman looking for a space to go. Refuges are more likely to turn somebody away than take them in because of the pressures on that service.

The judicial system needs a complete overhaul in how victims move through that system. It is a well-known fact that approximately 5% of rape complaints actually end in a prosecution. We have much work to do there. That fact is so well known that it actually discourages victims from making a complaint because the biggest fear any woman has is that she will not be believed. When we look at the statistics, we can understand why a woman would think that.

If we really want to discourage these criminal offences and these types of gender-based crimes, we need to send a message to the potential perpetrators that if they do this, they will be prosecuted and serve their time. As it stands, however, a person would almost be unlucky to be convicted of raping somebody in this country because the prosecution figures are so low.

I will reference an experience of going through the court system. I will be mindful of the constraints in this regard, a Chathaoirligh. The Belfast rape trial is a very well-known trial of an alleged sexual offence. I found it quite difficult to read about the way that trial was conducted, as I think many women did. If ever there was a judicial process that would send a message to any potential victim that this was a difficult road to go down, that was it. That particular trial, because it was so widely publicised, would have scared many potential victims from coming forward.

As the Minister said earlier when she spoke about the stalking Bill, we have a job of work to do to get the message out there that victims should come forward and report these crimes, and there will be support and they will be believed. In that particular case, there were references to the victim's past sexual history, what she was wearing on the night and what underwear she was wearing. That is completely irrelevant in my view. The purpose of that type of cross-examination is to tear the victim to shreds, discredit their character and undermine them as a person, and to try to speak directly to the jury and tell them they cannot believe this person because of the type of character they have. That is generally the defence that can be mounted in defence of a person accused of a sexual crime. I do not know exactly how we deal with that but I certainly think talking about a victim's underwear or what they were wearing on a night out is completely irrelevant.

There is also the possibility that access to a complainant's previous counselling history can be brought in as evidence. Again, that should be completely outlawed. That should not be allowed. A person should know that when they seek help, it should be kept confidential and private as with their medical information.

I realise I am completely out of time.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator may continue.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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The education piece will be key. I know the Minister will have to work cross-departmentally with the Minister for Education on this. Much responsibility is placed on our teachers' shoulders in terms of how they are supposed to do everything at this particular age. It is really important at a young age, particularly when a person is coming into his or her teenage years, that we teach young boys, in particular, but also young girls about consent, bodily integrity and respect for one another. I am not sure that the current system that is in place in terms of educating young people is doing what it needs to do. Evidently, it is probably not.

I will conclude on those remarks. I wish the Minister well in her work. I have no doubt that we will have further robust debates in this House when she brings forward the plan from the Government.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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I wish to begin today like many others by offering my deepest condolences to Ashling Murphy's family, friends and partner. As a woman, every time we hear another woman has been murdered, there is that wrenching feeling of horror and fear and then that is quickly followed by anger. The anger relates to the fact that we continue to live in a misogynistic society. While as a country we have come so far on so many issues, the reality is that we still have a long way to go to break the silence of violence against women.

Some 244 women have been murdered in Ireland since 1996 and 152 of them were killed in their own home; the place they are meant to be safe. Telling women what they need to do to be safe - download apps, carry rape alarms and legalise mace - not only misses the point but is also mentally exhausting for us. We know what we have to do because we have been doing it since time immemorial. To be frankly honest, there is nothing more as women that we can do. It is well past time that we focus on the perpetrators and not the victims.

The sad reality is that due to the systemic nature of violence against women in society, girls learn at a very early age that the very fact that they are female brings additional risk to how they have to live their lives. I found out at the age of eight. I was alone on a school corridor at an after-school event and a man tapped on the window, called me over and proceeded to masturbate in front of me. To this day, that man's face is etched in my memory because that shatters your innocence. That was the first instance but it was certainly not the last.

I doubt that there is a woman in this Chamber who has not experienced sexual harassment or worse. Women are tired of telling their stories. What we want now is men in society to step up and be allies. Enough from the "not all men" brigade because the first death threat I received online was from a man who took offence to me saying that we should teach our boys not to rape. What we need now is for men to listen and learn, and not be defensive but receptive.

Alongside men needing to step up, so too does the political system. To tackle a problem, the first step we need to take is to realise the scale of that problem. We need better data on gender-based crime and a sexual violence survey. We need full implementation of the domestic homicide review. As others have said, having somewhere to go if one is experiencing domestic violence cannot be a postcode lottery. It is simply unacceptable that nine counties in this country have no refuge space for somebody who needs to escape. We need the domestic violence leave Bill that is being brought forward by Sinn Féin to be progressed and fully enforced.

In the time I have left, I wish to address something else. Those who seek to stir up racism or to exploit issues of violence against women whenever a woman is attacked need to stop it because unfortunately, all women know that male violence against women comes from men of all backgrounds, nationalities and ages. Unfortunately, misogyny is endemic in society. Likewise, I remind those who want to see an end to violence against women that this must also include protection for transgender women because feminism that excludes our trans sisters is not feminism.

I really hope that we have reached a tipping point in Ireland on violence against women and that we can finally move away from talking about ending violence against women to actually ending it. I hope we do not need to come in and share our stories but can now hand over and let men start to take control of the things they need to do to end this, to start to stand up and, as Senator Ward said earlier, to call it out when they see it. Then, we follow with the political actions that need to happen. I know there will be full support across the political spectrum for those actions because this has to stop. We have to break the cycle of violence against women.

Photo of Annie HoeyAnnie Hoey (Labour)
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It is always difficult when you have to stand up and follow someone who has shared their experiences. I have been that person who shared my own experience here. I know how very difficult it is to stand up and talk about those things. They really, truly do not ever leave you and it is awful that the Senator had to do that. I thank her for taking a moment to share that with us. I certainly know that I am not alone in saying that it will give strength to other people to know they are also not alone. Sometimes when you have been a victim of something like this, you think you are alone. It is sometimes, unfortunately, incredibly useful to have people who can stand up and share their stories.

This afternoon, I am obviously thinking of Ashling Murphy and Urantsetseg Tserendorj, who both died at the hands of male violence.I am also thinking of Agnieszka T who died in Poland because of state-sanctioned violence against women and the constant tirade against reproductive health, much like Savita Halappanavar died here in Ireland when she was refused access to an abortion.

In 2021, 375 transgender people were killed and 96% of these murders, which were recorded globally, were of transfeminine women. These women were murdered for living their own truth. They are not a statistic. The report authors state that 2021, a year when we had a global lockdown, there was a pandemic and everyone was home, was the deadliest year of violence against gender-diverse people since records began. It is a very worrying statistic.

All forms of violence against women, girls, transwomen, non-binary people and fem men needs to be called out. I want to spend a few moments speaking about calling it out. When we come together as a group of parliamentarians to discuss this issue, and this has not been the first time and it will probably not be the last time that we do so, it is usually in the wake of tragedy such as the loss of Ashling. We all know that while these extreme acts of violence are far too common they are not nearly as common as microaggression. In the wake of deaths such as these there tends to be a conversation about CCTV cameras, rape whistles, personal alarms, policing numbers, public lighting and all of these things. While I appreciate the well-meaning concern that comes with this, if we are serious about tackling gender-based violence we need to tackle these microaggressions and the acceptability in Irish society of degrading, subtle, passive sexism towards women.

We all know women who have experienced some form of male violence, violation, harassment or unwanted touching. Every woman in Ireland could speak about a time they were groped walking through a bar, about how they were cat-called when out for a run and about when they were spoken to in a demeaning, and often in an aggressive way, for not engaging with unwanted commentary from a man on their appearance. We have all been in the room when someone has made an off-colour joke or comment about rape, sexual consent or even domestic violence. Those jokes are still being bandied around the place. It is awful.

The question we need to ask is whether we called it out. Sometimes we put the pressure on women to call out these things. It has been highlighted in the Chamber that we need men to call this out. Calling it out has to be part of our day-to-day lives and an everyday practice. In the same way as it is not good enough to be just not racist and we have to be actively anti-racist, the same needs to be done for sexism. Every one of the small instances of sexism forms the basis on which the system of patriarch, sexism and ultimately violence against women is built.

The Minister mentioned in her opening statement she will shortly bring into operation the Criminal Procedure Act allowing for pre-trial hearings so as to not re-traumatise victims. I am one of the people Senator Ward referenced as having stood up and shared my own story. I cannot emphasise how much the process of reporting sexual violence or rape retraumatises the victim again and again and again. I truly welcome the Minister's plan to introduce these pre-trial hearings. Under the patriarchy, which is still alive and kicking, we all suffer. The conversation today has been triggered by a senseless violent murder. If we continue to have national conversations only when exceptional events happen we will continue to miss the daily occurrences of microaggression, violence, trauma, abuse or sexism.

I am tired of going to vigils for dead women. These women had lives that had value which we as a society failed to protect. I am tired of hearing stories from friends of nights out and walking home and feeling so intimidated. I am tired of having to re-tell my own story in the hope it will give someone else the strength to come forward and have justice done for them. I get tired when women reach out to me looking for help to process their trauma to get help or to get out of a dangerous place because I am flailing around trying to help them in a system that I know is not fit for purpose for their needs. I want to live in a world where my body is my own and where I do not hear about a woman being murdered and think it could have been me, my sister or my best friend, and being grateful that it was not one of them. That is an awful thought that all women think when we hear about another woman being murdered. I want to live in a world where women experiencing sexual harassment is not the norm. Right now it is the norm. We cannot ignore the intersection of misogyny, racism, xenophobia and hate that are merging into a smelting pot of violence. Somehow, I do not know how we are going to do it, we have to break this cycle.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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I find the debate very moving and upsetting. It was very powerful listening to Senators Boylan and Hoey. I do not think there is a woman that has not been impacted, including myself. It is amazing how from a very young age we learn as young female children to protect ourselves. We have to. There is no other way about it. We have to learn to protect ourselves from when we are very young female children. I know today that even when I walk from my house to the shop I am scanning. We have to. Even during the daytime when I see somebody walking towards me I wonder whether it is a dangerous person, whether there will be a comment or whether I will be grabbed. It has happened to me, a good few times I might add, just because I am a woman. It is quite shocking to think that in this day and age we still have to have this conversation.

I offer my sincere and heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Ashling Murphy. I mentioned this on the Order of Business. I cannot imagine it, and nobody can. The whole country seems to be in mourning for that young woman. I also express my condolences to the family and friends of all the women who have died needlessly and violently at the hands of men in Ireland. The murder of Ashling was heartbreaking but as we all know it is not an isolated incident. It is a watershed moment in Irish history when at last we will collectively say enough is enough. It is very sad to say it takes the death of a beautiful young woman with her whole life ahead of her to bring about societal change but it is better that a tragedy brings about a positive change for the greater good and there is no doubt about that.

I want to mention a few figures released this week by An Garda Síochána. I am sure the Minister is aware of them but I want them on the record. The Garda responded to 48,400 incidents of domestic abuse in the past year alone. This is unbelievable. There was a 10% increase in the number of instances in 2020. This week, RTÉ reported that a women's refuge in Waterford city has seen a 134% increase in calls to its 24-hour helpline since the onset of the pandemic. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre believes 90% of victims do not report. Despite the increased levels of awareness about domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in recent years, the incidence rate continues to increase. It is time to take a look at the efforts we have made as a society to address the issue of gender-based violence. Our strategies continually fail the women of this country.

I could go on as I have a big speech to make but I am very conscious that today we are looking for answers. We are looking for answers as to how we can change this societal pandemic upon us with regard to sexual violence against women. What can we do? I have a few suggestions. I am not even sure they will help. Providing funding for services that work with women experiencing domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is vital. We have to do this. We must ensure the criminal justice system works fairly and equitably for women. Some of our colleagues have mentioned simple measures such as putting a "do not disturb" sign on the door. For God's sake is this not just respect and dignity? It is bad enough having been assaulted but then to have to go in and speak to the Garda with people coming in and out of the room is like being abused again. It is vital that progressive public education campaigns are devised to ensure women are treated with the respect and dignity that we deserve.

I know this will all be little consolation to Ashling Murphy's family and friends. We have to ensure her death did not occur in vain. Let their loss be the wake-up call our country so desperately needs so that no other family is forced to contend with the grief of losing their daughter in such a violent and senseless way. All I can say to the family is ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam. Please let us start today. Hopefully this is the beginning of something whereby we can make a change in the country to deal with violence.There is not a woman in the country who has not been impacted in some way. I am telling the Minister that. All my women friends have been impacted in some way. I thank the Minister today for calling for this debate. I thank her for her work. I know she is very passionate about this issue.

Photo of Erin McGreehanErin McGreehan (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister is very welcome back to the Chamber for this debate on another important issue. I thank her for accepting the anti-stalking Bill that was brought through the House in the previous session.

This is no country for women, and that is shameful. I find it hard to have these contradictions in my head and heart. I love this country. I am so proud to be Irish, and to be living in a modern European democracy. I am happy to be bringing my children up in this country. On the other hand, however, I have an overwhelming sense of being continuously let down and made angry by the state of things. We have let down our daughters, our friends, our sisters, our mothers.

The Constitution puts us at home. Our country and society put unmarried, pregnant women into institutions. Our church isolated women, persecuted them, shamed them and even said we were unclean after having children. Our schools still do not educate or empower us to do what is right or wrong when it comes to sex and consent. Our healthcare system does not adequately listen to the needs of women. The blame for much of what happens to women is blamed on us. We are just told that is our lot. Our justice system is broken. We do not look after victims. The Minister spoke very passionately earlier about listening to victims and looking after them. I hope she will do that when it comes to reforming the way sexual assaults are dealt with in the legal system. Gardaí need training. They need to be there for girls and women to protect them and their dignity, not to shame them and make them feel like something is their fault. As a people, we must grow up.

I again pass on my deepest condolences to the family of Ashling Murphy on her death, which has rightly given rise to anger. I hope that people and entitles - men, the State, Departments - are listening to that anger. Let us remember all the women in Ireland and across the world who have been murdered. We stand for them. We also stand for the woman who is afraid for her life right now, who is afraid to walk down a street, who is afraid to go home tonight because the man in her life is going to blow and hurt her even more than usual. We cannot let down another woman like the young woman who wrote to me today. These are her words:

As a young woman, gender violence is a very important aspect of my life. When I was 20, I was sexually assaulted and raped. The director of public prosecutions decided there was not enough evidence to press charges on the persecutor as it would be 'my word against his'. They also believed that because I had agreed to go on a date with this person, I wouldn’t be looked upon favourably as a 'victim'. No support is given when a women goes through this either and if there is, there is a lack of it. You have to use your own finances to seek cbt or therapy. This creates shame around victims of abuse too.

That is a recent case. The woman is still young. This is both embarrassing and a really sad indictment of the current system we operate. We will not change until we act on the Minister's lovely sound bite about zero tolerance. We must act on that and put the laws in place. If the laws are not bringing convictions, then they are not working. If the system does not make bringing complaints accessible and make it a safe place to report crime, then it is not working and needs to change. It is a small thing for us to ask to feel safe and to be safe. It is also a small thing to ask for perpetrators of violence to be punished for it. One would think it is a small ask, but it is the biggest ask of our time and of the Government.

I do not want young girls accepting the sexual assaults that I accepted as a young woman. I refer to being sexually assaulted and having to walk off laughing because if you did not laugh, you were no craic and you were abused even more. On one hand, the Government is talking this up and saying we will have zero tolerance, yet when we were faced with it head-on this week with the Women of Honour, who are women of honour, we are let down by the system and told that a system is being put in place. Again, it is a case of the victims being ignored and going with the system. It seems to always be the system and this must change.

I want safe streets. I want my sons to be reared in a country that does not accept this ignorance and sexual violence as a day-to-day norm. I do not want my nieces and the daughters of friends growing up, looking behind them. I curse the country that makes me look behind me constantly when I go out alone. I curse the people who have done this to me and all the women in this room and to all the young girls who we have to face head-on now. It is up to us to change.

Photo of Lorraine Clifford-LeeLorraine Clifford-Lee (Fianna Fail)
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We have listened to many personal testimonies. It is fair to say that as women we have all experienced violence in our lives. It is incredible that we can all say that we have been a victim of violence. That is a really stark statistic - that half the population have been victims, yet it is almost seen as something acceptable. I am pleased we are having this debate, on foot of the murder of a lovely young woman, but, unfortunately, there have been many lovely young women, and middle aged women and older women, killed in this country. It is unfortunate that it has taken this event to get us to have this debate. If I was to stand here and read out the names of all the victims, I would use up all my time and probably go beyond it because, unfortunately, there have been too many women dying in this country at the hands of male violence in recent years.

I give my heartfelt condolences to the family of Ashling Murphy, and the awful trauma her community is going through - to think that a woman was out in the middle of the day minding her own business and something horrendous befell her. There is a trauma in that community and across the country.

I am pleased that we are going to get a whole-of-government approach because violence against women is endemic in society. We have all been subjected to demeaning and degrading language, sexist attitudes, microagression and casual sexual assaults on a daily basis, as Senator McGreehan outlined. To my shame, I could list ten or 12 instances of casual sexual assault that I have put up with, and did not feel I had the ability as a teenager or young woman in my 20s to speak up about. We cannot tolerate this any longer for young women. Senator Boylan outlined a very distressing incident that happened to her when she was a child, which reminded me of something. There was a flasher near our local school and on the way from our all-girls school to the bus we had to pass by this guy who flashed us all. It was a daily occurrence. Everyone thought it was a bit of craic, but it was not. I had forgotten it until Senator Boylan mentioned something similar. It was nearly that ordinary that it could be forgotten.

We need to be able to call out every bit of sexism as we see it and not be accused of not being able to take a joke, not being a bit of craic or being too politically correct or too woke. We need to start addressing it because all of this leads to the tragic incidences that we have seen. We are not anti-men. We all love men. We all have supportive male influences in our lives but, unfortunately, there is a toxic masculinity in Irish society that needs to be addressed. The patriarchy has allowed this to build up over generations and we are going to have to do something major to break up this intergenerational patriarchy. A comprehensive, up-to-date sexual education programme is needed. I want to home in on domestic violence, which is something I have spoken about in this House on many occasions. In my previous life as a solicitor, I represented a lot of victims of domestic violence. Women of all backgrounds and in all communities' experience domestic violence. There is a very high rate of women dying at the hands of an intimate partner in society and that needs to be tackled in a comprehensive fashion.

The Minister said she is going to take some suggestions from the House. I have some suggestions to make. The civil legal aid system is completely broken.There have been calls by Free Legal Advice Centres, FLAC, and other civil society groups to reform the civil legal aid system from top to bottom. I would like the Minister to undertake a comprehensive review of that. In tandem with that, the civil legal aid system in family law and domestic violence matters relies on the private practitioners panel. During the most recent recession the fees paid were cut down to a low level. As a result, now, if a woman goes that step, qualifies for legal aid, brings an application in the District Court, gets her legal aid certificate and then goes to look for a solicitor, she cannot find any legal representation because the fees have not increased at all. There is maybe a lack of political will to touch the legal aid figures fees paid, but this is having a direct impact. There are swathes of this country where women cannot get legal representation to seek a barring order or safety order.

The court infrastructure is woefully inadequate to deal with any family law matters. I am glad to see the big hole down in Hammond Lane has finally started construction. Again, I have been raising that for years in this House. While it is a progressive step, our courts infrastructure around the country is completely inadequate. Victims of domestic violence who are up against the perpetrators have to stand next to them in a crowded hallway. They are not able to consult their solicitor in privacy.

We need a State-run central maintenance collections agency. The State requires women who are in receipt of the one-parent family payment to seek maintenance from the fathers of their children. Then, when they get their maintenance order in the District Court, there may be somebody who is financially abusive, controlling and not paying over the maintenance. It is then up to them, the victim, to go perpetually chasing the perpetrator of violence to address this financial abuse. That should not be the way. Every other European country has a central maintenance collection agency. The lack of such an agency is allowing perpetrators to continually abuse and financially control women.

I have many other points to make, although I see that my time is up. However, I will be in correspondence with the Minister, because there are a number of practical and important steps that we can take as a State. We can come in here and talk, but unless there is action, it will be pointless.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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FI thank the Minister for taking this debate. In preparing a few words for today, I want to open with a quote from someone who I much admire, a former abbot general of Glenstal Abbey, Mark Patrick Hederman. I think it is apt and appropriate for today's debate. He states:

When we as citizens have courage, that does not mean we have the means. But it does mean that we can stand up for ourselves. And then the Government have to follow on. I don't think the Government does anything really creatively, until they have to do it by the law of necessity. It is only with necessity that the law changes.

That is profound and that represents public opinion and public power. I took time the other morning. I chose to come in at 6.30 a.m., as it became dark into light on Kildare Street outside Leinster House. I read the messages of the public and the many hundreds of candles and I saw the bouquets and flowers of sympathy. This was a national response to a crisis that we all have known about for so long. There were simple messages that called out for Government action, Government change and asked when the Government will respond. They stated, "I have cried too much" and "Stop". Moving tributes and candles were laid on the footpath leading to our Parliament. We were all deeply moved. I met other politicians heading home some evenings who were out there looking at them.

The appalling and tragic death of Ashling Murphy has produced a groundswell of support to bring about change. I am confident that the Minister will lead that change. I have no doubt that. I have observed her, I have followed her and I have heard commentary about her. However, I have made a decision and a call that I think that she is best placed and she is absolutely committed as a woman, a citizen and the country's Minister for Justice in the right place at the right time to lead that change and to respond to the call.

We must listen to the victims of gender-based violence. The Minister said that earlier. I picked up on the line: "We must listen to the victims of gender-based violence." Gender-based violence is deeply rooted, as we all know, in gender inequality and continues to be one of the most notable human rights violations within all societies. Gender-based violence is violence against a person because of their gender. Both women and men experience gender-based violence, which comes in many forms. While people have rightly articulated this about women, I know many men and boys who have experienced gender-based violence, hate speech, crime and abuse, not only out in society but in their family homes and in State institutions. We must recognise that in this debate. Abuse comes in many forms, including physical, sexual and mental. It includes threats of such acts as coercive control and deprivation of liberty. I want to take this particular moment to single out Deputy Carroll MacNeill from my constituency of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and the Minister's party colleague, who has done a lot of work on coercive control. It is important that she has led on that. It is important that politicians lead on it.

I want to share a simple matter that was in my local paper, The Southside People, on 21 January 2022. It states:

Dear Editor,

Ashling Murphy’s death is yet another horrific manifestation of the growing epidemic of violence against women in Ireland, in both the private and the public domain. This young woman was going about her legitimate routine daily business with every reason to expect that she would arrive home safely. There are no circumstances in which the deflection tactics of blame and personal responsibility can be used to justify the continued harbouring of misogyny, violence and femicide in our communities. It is incumbent on all of us to be outraged at the escalating social and cultural assault on women’s safety; the paralysis of communities to be able to respond, and the resistance of political actors to confront and resource the elimination of violence against women.

Yours sincerely,

Mary Mc Dermot,

CEO of Safe Ireland.

I will finish by noting that a report published last year, Travelling in a Woman's Shoes. I urge the Minister to look at this as part of her deliberations. It spoke about horrific experiences but, more importantly, it gave facts and data and challenged us to change in that area. I ask the Minister to give special attention to the documents as part of her deliberations. I have every confidence in the Minister. She is the right person at the right time in the right place to lead a national response to this issue.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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The Minister is very welcome to the House. Everything in this country feels like a fight for women. This is not a fight that we should have to fight alone, but it often feels like we are. I know that men are there walking with us sometimes, but it always feels that we have to ask them to. It also feels that we ask Governments continuously to take action, as well as schools and society more generally. There are pockets of things going right, such as inter-agency response such as the Barnahus in Galway, which deals with sexual assault against children. That will be replicated around the country. However, it is beyond time for national response on this. The programme for Government was the first time that "epidemic" was ever used to describe domestic violence and violence against women, but we are a couple years on now. There is a list of legislation that the Minister is progressing on stalking, which we spoke about earlier. However, it also felt like a battle to get to this point on that. It took her death of Savita Halappanavar to bring us to the place that we are waiting in respect of abortion but we are still fighting. I see there has now been a death in Poland, which Senator Hoey mentioned, of Agnieszka T., again relating to abortion.When something seems to be fixed in one place, it seems to pop up somewhere else around the world. We have obligations here in that respect as well.

Much of the discussion about this subject must involve talking about Ashling Murphy because what happened has hit us all deeply. I think of her family all the time. I also think of the families of the 244 women killed in recent years. What must this be bringing up for the members of their families? Along with those 244 women, 18 children were killed alongside their mothers. This has an impact on whole communities. We should not even have to say that because each woman is an individual and we should act before each death happens. That is simply not happening to the extent that it should be happening.

Quite rightly, we talk a great deal about domestic violence. I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Clifford-Lee regarding maintenance and having a central collection point for maintenance payments. I know women, as I am sure the Minister does, who had to go back into court seven times. Eventually, they just give up. This issue derives from our long legacy of shaming lone-parent families and those who are unmarried or divorced. Why has action not been taken before now to deal with this issue? Nobody should have to be an advocate 24-7 for their own rights.

I agree with everyone who has spoken. Every woman here has, I would say, experienced incidents where they were victims. Not everybody wants to talk about it and not everybody in society should have to talk about it. Their rights should be enshrined in law and action should be taken anyway. The statistics show that a quarter of women have experienced violence, but I think it has gone much beyond that. When I was a member of Galway County Council, it was not even stated in the joint policing committee report how many incidents there were of sexual assaults, for example, until I raised it. Decades, if not generations later, we must still ask people if they have thought about the fact that women are experiencing crimes being perpetrated against them every day.

I return to the point about the children because it is critical. We talk about education a great deal, but in every school and every circle of friends, children are talking about Ashling Murphy. Children simply do not have the tools to be able to figure out what is going on in their society. I think of my daughter who came back from school and asked me about Ashling Murphy and the event I attended with a candle. I am not fully confident about the teaching of consent, not just in my daughter's school but in my son’s school as well. These are the future actors. I will not say victims because we must be careful to say that people are victims for the time when something has been perpetrated against them. After that, they are not. We are ensuring, through our justice system, that people are being retraumatised and brought back to that place of victimhood over and over. Every time we hear about a death, it is also happening to us.

Some good things are happening. The legislation being introduced by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy Roderic O’Gorman, providing for time off in cases of domestic violence is a good thing, even though it should not be needed in the first place because nobody should have to take time off for this reason. I refer as well to all the legislation the Minister for Justice has undertaken to deliver. We also have our new Joint Committee on Gender Equality, which many of us sit on, and we will be examining this issue and ensuring that progress is made. That is our role.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Members will be aware that I am allowing the clock to run over because people have valuable contributions to make and I do not want to cut people off for the want of time. I hope the Minister understands. I call Senator Dooley.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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I also wish to be associated with the expressions of condolence to the Murphy family and Ashling’s boyfriend, Ryan Casey, on what is a tragedy for all of them and their community. No words spoken here will bring any comfort to them. It is important that we mark this tragic event because it has brought about an outpouring of sympathy and grief and resolve to sort things out across the State.

Much has been said in the past fortnight about violence, particularly physical and sexual violence against women. We have heard the many personal stories of women who regularly feel afraid for their safety. We have heard their testimonies of events and attacks perpetrated on women by men. We have heard personal stories again today from those who have been brave, and I thank them for that. We have also heard of the impact this has had on women. We have heard how it has affected their confidence and ability to travel freely, socialise and live life as they want. We have heard the stories of women who feel that the criminal justice system has let them down and that the perpetrators of violent acts have escaped justice.

We must respond. I welcome the Minister for Justice's clear statement that she intends to do so with comprehensive legislation. We must build on that undertaking, however. I also recognise what Senator Chambers has done with the publication of legislation to address the crime of stalking. That is dealing with the extreme, and the extreme is serious, but there is so much more below the waterline that is often not discussed. We must take a much broader look at our society. Men must take a long hard look at our behaviour, views and ideas and at how we treat women. We must do that not just in our families and homes, but also concerning how we treat women in general, in the workplace and right across society.

If I hear another man give the impression that he fully understands the scale of the problem because he has a mother, a wife, a sister or a girlfriend, I will scream. To the best of my knowledge, no man in existence anywhere on Earth who has perpetrated the most heinous crimes on women was not born from a woman. Enough lads, enough. Such statements signify nothing.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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I also do not want to hear it said that it is not all men. Of course it is not all men who reach a point where they rape, murder or plunder the rights of women, but an awful lot of women are undermined by men every day. A culture of misogyny is endemic in our society, sadly. Whatever its origins, and we all have a fair idea of where it comes from and how it has been allowed to continue, it is there. We can expect the Government to do the devil and all, and I have no doubt that it will, but unless men take responsibility in addressing this culture of misogyny, we will be going nowhere.

The other night, I watched a powerful investigative programme RTÉ did on the Kerry babies case. I would like to think we have moved a long way from that time, but we still have a culture of misogyny. It is beyond belief what was done to that woman. That it took 20 years for the State to address it, is equally harrowing. At least the State did, eventually, face up to its responsibilities to the family in question.

I spoke during the week to a woman friend of mine who happens to be a solicitor. She relayed a story to me of a male colleague who during a professional negotiation, and this was just in the last week, asked her why she was being so feisty. It was polite language perhaps, but the message being conveyed by that man to his woman colleague was direct. To her, it was interpreted as "Calm down you hysterical little woman". That happened between two professionals last week. Fair play to her because she retorted by asking if he would say that to a man. We all know the answer. He would probably get decked if he did. Why is a woman who is forthright and stands up for her position, or that of her client, described as "hysterical"? If a man stands up for his client in that way, he is described as "solid" and told "well done" and that he did right. Women are undermined every day of the week in the workplace for no reason other than their gender. A man would not do that to another man because he would not get away with it and we know why.

It is often said that women should take it on the chin and get on with their job but they should not. They should not be asked to take it on the chin. Men would not be asked to do so and this needs to be called out.A former county council employee shared a story with me last week relating to a female former colleague of his who believed she was being bullied in the course of her work by a male who was, at the time, an elected member of the council. She followed the proper procedure and made a complaint but the councillor was never brought to book or held to account. He lawyered up and defended himself and it seems the internal procedures were not strong enough to deal with the situation because he was not an employee of the council. The view of the person who shared the story with me was that, if it had been a man, the councillor would not have got away with it and would not have tried his hand in the first instance. He was trying to advance the case for some particular issue he was involved in but the woman felt she was bullied just for doing her job.

When other women in the workplace see that concerns are not being taken seriously, it further undermines their self-confidence. We need to resolve that because women cannot be made feel they are not being taken seriously and cannot expect a positive outcome when they are being bullied or harassed in discharging their duties in the workplace. I wish the Minister well in the work she is doing, but it can only be a signal. Legislation from the Government cannot solve this problem. It is up to men in society to do right by women they see being undermined and abused in a sinister way by other men and to call that out. We cannot stand idly by any longer.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I thank my colleague, Senator Maria Byrne, for giving me her place in this debate and waiting until later to speak to allow me to go to see Gabriel Byrne in the Gaiety Theatre. My wife has come up to go to that show so I cannot reasonably avoid the appointment.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I am very happy with the fact that she has unequivocally stated that there will be a policy of zero tolerance. It is the unanimous view of this House that is how it should be. The Minister will lead on that. In light of her record, I am convinced that will be the case. It is very important.

As the last speaker very eloquently testified - I did not hear the others but I heard him - any form of verbal or physical abuse, any type of violence towards women and any abuse of any description is, of course, wrong. It is violence. It undermines the confidence of the woman in question. In some instances, women who are less confident or not as experienced may be socially knocked out by it and not go to social events afterwards as a consequence. They may become very introverted. It is horrendous. The very recent tragic death, the murder, in Tullamore is the extreme form of this. That is what has brought this whole debate into focus but anything that can be classified as violence towards women is wrong and we should have zero tolerance for it.

I am happy that the four pillars of the Istanbul Convention, to which Ireland is a signatory, are being adopted here in that the Minister will look to prevention, protection, prosecution and policy co-ordination. I will make reference to a few of these pillars in the time I have. With regard to prevention, as a former teacher and as a parent, I believe we need a strong relationships and sexuality education programme in every school. One of the first steps the Minister should take with regard to co-ordination should be to talk to the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, to establish what is present in the schools now and to see how it could be augmented, made better and delivered to every child in the country. That is a basic priority. There should be co-ordination with parents through parents associations and information from the schools so that there is follow-up in the home. As a parent, I get that. It is no good for this to be done in isolation. The same set of values should permeate the home and be reflected there. Children learn good and bad practices from the relationships they witness within the home. That places a great responsibility on parents, whether single parents or couples, to do the right thing, to be seen to do the right thing and to create the right atmosphere. That is very much in the area of prevention and it is necessary.

Protection is obviously important. In her summary later, will the Minister comment on the number of refuge centres and on what she proposes to do to ensure we have an adequate number of refuge places for women who are victims of domestic violence? What does she propose to do with regard to providing care for their children so that they have a support system in the interim that is more than just a physical room and that will allow them to transition to some sort of a normal life outside of their dreadful experience at home? That is in the area of protection.

With regard to prosecution, of course, there should be zero tolerance. There should be no equivocation there. There should be prosecutions. It is unfortunate that human nature is such that we will not achieve these aims by exhortation.

Policy co-ordination in our actions is very important. That involves getting the Department of Health and the social welfare system involved. A unitary and holistic approach is required to ensure that women are supported when they are the victims of violence and that they are helped and get psychological services. Will the Minister comment on the support services she envisages for a woman who is a victim as she establishes herself back into life?

I am very grateful to my colleague, Senator Maria Byrne, and I thank the Cathaoirleach for taking me out of turn. In deference to that, I will not go on, but it is incumbent on every man to stand up today and be unequivocal that there can be no tolerance here.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte ar ais roimh an Aire. I thank the Minister for her time. I know it has been a long afternoon for her but I also know how significant and important all of these issues are to her and how willing she is to be here to engage with us in the Seanad.

The national outpouring of grief, sympathy and support following the murder of Ashling Murphy did not just reflect anger and shock at that appalling murder but also highlighted the awareness that there is something deeply and fundamentally wrong in Irish society, where violence against women is endemic. That murder is the tip of an iceberg of misogyny, which is pervasive in society because men, the practitioners of ingrained prejudice against women, are in control of society by and large. Within hours of the murder of Ashling Murphy while she was out jogging, a woman who regularly ran along the canal path said that she also jogged in the local forest and that she was not afraid of anything in the forest except the men she saw while jogging. To men, that comment might seem odd but it is not at all odd when you listen to women's experience of life in a male-dominated society, some of which have been shared here today, or when you reflect on the statistics in respect of violence against women and the sexism, verbal harassment, intimidation and violence women experience at the hands of men.

Women are not afraid of their surroundings; they are afraid of violent and abusive men. Why would they not be? The following information is frightening. More than 244 women have died violently since 1996. Some 18 children have died alongside their mothers and 152 women have been killed in their own homes. Some 87% of these women were killed by a man known to them while 13% were killed by a stranger. In almost all murder-suicide cases, 22 out of 23, the killer was the woman's partner. Femicide is the outworking of male attitudes to women across a broad canvas of views and behaviours, including rape, sexual assault, coercive control, intimate partner abuse, groping, commercial exploitation, everyday sexism, sexist trolling and catcalling. Most violence, abuse and coercive control and harassment of women by men goes unreported. In one of five cases of detected sexual violence reported, both the victim and the suspected offender were under 18 when the offence occurred. Women's Aid support workers in this State heard more than 30,000 disclosures of domestic violence, including coercive control.A total of 24,893 disclosures related to abuse against women and 5,948 to child abuse. Between March and December 2020, an average of 180 women and 275 children sought emergency accommodation every month. In the same period, 2,159 requests for refuge could not be met by the services.

The peculiar nature of the pandemic, with isolation and other restrictions, has made circumstances worse for many women. During the first six months of the pandemic, calls to women's refuge services showed that 19 new women and three new children called every day. Following the murder of Ashling Murphy, Womens Aid has called for zero tolerance for male violence against women. Safe Ireland has stated the murder must prompt a national response, while the National Womens Council has called for the issue of violence against women to be housed under one Department.

At the beginning March, the third State strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is due to be published. The Government must implement, resource and fund this strategy in full. Sinn Féin again calls on the Government to set up within the Department of the Taoiseach a domestic, sexual and gender-based violence policy and implementation unit. We need a firm commitment from the Government to implementing the recommendations from the independent study on familicide and domestic homicide reviews, which is due to be released shortly. We need better data on sexual, violent and gender-based crime in this State and the implementation of a State database for such crimes. We need to speed up the completion of the sexual violence survey, which is not due to be completed until 2023. These and many other measures are needed to eradicate the scourge of violence against women.

Much progress has been made on creating a just legal society where women and men can share equal space. This progress was made because women and men collaborated to ensure it would happen and, as other Senators have acknowledged, more often than not because women had to demand and fight for it. The same approach is needed to create a new society where misogyny, patriarchy and violence against women are a thing of the past.

As men, we have been encouraged to listen and, more important, to act. There would be no greater example of male privilege than if we came to the Chamber, said all the right things and then left and did not act. As my male colleagues have said, we need to call this out, but that is only one part of it. We need also to stop it. We need to stop wrapping ourselves in the comfort male privilege and a misogynistic society afforded to us as men. We need not just to say we are allies but to act as allies of women, and we need to do that in institutions such as this one as legislators. I hope we can legislate, in concert with the Minister, to end gender-based violence. Furthermore, we need to act when we leave this Chamber.

I cannot speak for the female politicians in this institution, but I have seen examples where women politicians have had their appearance or style of dress called into question, where they have been told to calm down. Senator Dooley spoke about a professional, but I have heard people in this House tell female political leaders to lower their voice or confront them in such a way. All that needs to end and to be called out and challenged. No matter what aspect of our lives it is in, we as men, alongside women, need to be proactive in challenging that.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for appearing before the House to speak on this important issue. I express my sympathies to the family of the late Ashling Murphy. I met her family and her partner at a candlelit vigil in Mary Immaculate College on Monday evening last, which I attended along with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. It was a very moving tribute and an opportunity to meet her family and friends who were in attendance. The previous time I had seen such an outpouring of grief was when my neighbour Shane Geoghegan was gunned down as a result of a gangland feud. It was a mistaken identity. That happened in 2008 and it was the previous time I had seen an outpouring of grief similar to what we have witnessed over recent weeks.

Violence of any nature, and especially to women, is totally unacceptable. I recognise the exceptional and tireless work the Minister has been doing to provide legislation to protect individuals in society. Recently, there have been announcements about the gender-based violence strategy. I also commend Senator Chambers on the Bill she has brought forward. Both items are very important work.

As legislators, we have an important role to show ambition and leadership in developing policy that will combat violence against women and ensure these victims of violence see justice. That is an important message. Generally, as a society, most people want to see equality for women and men, but that applies especially to women. It is only a small minority who make this unachievable. I say a "minority" because it is a small few. Many of our male colleagues have stood up during this debate and been supportive, as have many males throughout the country.

Many of us have witnessed the level of abuse on social media. Recently, I heard a podcast about female councillors and the very high percentage who have experienced abuse online, which many of us experience online as well. People think it is okay to be able to say very insulting things to people. I commend the fact legislation is being brought forward in that regard. Some young people think sexism is acceptable and that, too, needs to be combated.

Senator Clifford-Lee spoke about the issue of solicitors and support for people who end up in this position. I recently met representatives of the Rape Crisis Midwest in Limerick. An issue that came to light related to the fact that many people, when they end up in this situation and the matter ends up going to court, are taken to Dublin. Many women who have been in the position feel that if they could go home at night and sleep in their own bed, they would feel more supported because their family and peers would be there with them and they would have a lot of support. I ask the Minister to examine that. Where possible, the court cases should be held within the nearest jurisdiction to where the person lives. In Limerick, for example, the courthouse in Mulgrave Street has five chambers and they are not all used every day. There are many ways this can be addressed. It is really important women not only feel safe but also have the security of having their family around them. There are three refuges in Limerick and they do fantastic work but it is frightening to think people need to use them. We need to aim towards people feeling safe and feeling as though they have support around them.

I thank the Minister for her attendance and for all the work she is doing.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister’s appearance before the House. We are speaking on such a difficult topic. She is here to say what the Government is going to do to combat domestic and gender-based violence against both women and men. She is getting to hear the voices of both men and women in the Seanad as we express our feelings on the subject. We know about the shocking loss of Ashling Murphy's life and, of course, our thoughts are with her family and friends and the people of Tullamore.

Womens Aid has spoken out about violence against women. More than 230 women have lost their lives in the past two decades. It is culture and behaviours that we have to challenge and stop, as has been mentioned on many occasions. We in the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science have this year produced a report on bullying in schools. Even at school level, one in three pupils has experienced incidents of bullying or cyberbullying. It starts from a young age and we have to tackle that. Bullying cannot be acceptable. It can lead to other types of actual violence, as was seen in the case of Ashling Murphy.We have to call it out and tackle it. It is about the bystanders and upstanders, the people who notice that their friends have become more withdrawn, and whether they are asking questions. Nobody wants to get too involved, but has a friend or a family member become more withdrawn? Are we asking those questions and are we offering them the supports to feel that they can come forward and speak about this? The Minister spoke about upskilling and so forth within the Garda so every member of the Garda is able to be that person for the person who comes through the door.

On 25 November last, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Minister announced funding for 18 organisations across the country. She particularly focused on regional towns, where there can be very simple things such as increasing the number of hours that the telephone lines would be open so they are open late in the evening and at night when people need them, emotional support and more supports for people going to court so when they are taking a legal case they will have legal support. The Minister mentioned additional refuge places in the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. We have discussed this previously and the fact that there are so many counties that do not have these. However, it is not just counties, but towns. It should not be looked at on a county basis. I believe we should look at it on a town basis. What supports are there for urban towns of 5,000 up to 20,000 people? With regard to the refuge places that are available, obviously we are discussing violence against women here but I do not take away from the fact there is also domestic violence against men and a lot of that, like much domestic violence, is not reported. It is not reported when it happens to men and I am not sure if there are any refuge places available for men, as well as for women. It is a crisis in our society.

I thank the Minister for the work she is doing on the strategy she is bringing forward and for the way in which she has engaged with all communities, particularly in the last few weeks when it has been so difficult. We are aware that there are helplines, including the Women's Aid 24-7 helpline. For people listening to this debate, there is help available. They can talk in confidence. There are ways whereby the numbers cannot be traced or tracked. I encourage people to come forward where it is necessary. I again thank the Minister for her work on this.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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I thank the Minister for being present for these statements. I start by expressing my heartfelt sympathy to the family, boyfriend, friends and community of Ashling Murphy. They are living through the nightmare we all fear for our mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters and friends. I also express my deepest sympathy to the family of Urantsetseg Tserendorj who also died in a random attack 12 months ago. Most of us will have read the interview with her husband and daughter over the weekend and about the desperately sad circumstances in which they find themselves with regard to their work and housing situation.

As has been said by many and as we know from the work of Women's Aid, 244 women have been killed since 1996 at the hands of a violent perpetrator in this country. A shocking 87% knew their attacker and 62% died in their home. There are thousands more who can count sexual harassment as one of their experiences. We are grateful to Senators Boylan and Hoey for recounting their experiences because it helps others to realise that they are not alone.

This violence requires many responses. I am conscious that much has been said, but the violence requires a response from our education system to tackle the culture of laddishness, male domination, misogyny and sexism. We need many significant changes in our criminal justice system. I am reminded of my former colleague, former Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who used to talk so much about the burden of proof or how there was a burden on the survivors of domestic violence to ensure that the charges were prosecuted. The onus is on a woman, when she has been assaulted, to proceed with the charge. There can be little wonder that the rate of prosecution in domestic violence cases is so low relative to the number of calls that are made to An Garda Síochána.

We need to see changes in terms of how we support victims and survivors. I have spoken previously in the House about the very long waiting lists that so many rape crisis centres across the country are dealing with. It is an issue of resources and it is an issue of pay. It is incredible that we are bringing the pay issue into this, but it relates to retaining counsellors for rape crisis centres across the country. There is the issue of how people are supported through and after the courts process. A number of women have spoken to me about how they felt abandoned after the courts process. There has to be political leadership and I am heartened by the commitments made this week by the Minister in that regard. We look forward to the work of the gender equality committee which will be chaired by my party colleague, Deputy Bacik.

A less discussed aspect of all this, but one that is nonetheless important, is that there has to be a focus and response from our health system, particularly in mental health services. I understand there is a major undersupply of community forensic psychiatry services, particularly for young men and adolescents under the age of 18 years. We need to understand what is happening with young men and the increase in reported sexual assaults among this group. Perhaps it is the case that it was always happening but that there are more reports now or maybe there are more incidents occurring, but we need to understand. I was struck when two days after Ashling Murphy lost her life there was a newspaper report about an adolescent who was before the court for threatening and harassing a woman, a journalist in fact. The young man's father spoke in court about how he had pleaded for services for his son for many years. He felt that his plea for help had gone unanswered. As the mother of two very small boys, that sent a chill through me. That a family were seeking help and their son went on to offend in that manner is horrendous.

Over the last fortnight we have rightly expressed our outrage at the killing of Ashling Murphy and commemorated her very full life. However, there is an uncomfortable reality in the fact that this has not been extended to every other woman who has lost her life at the violent hands of a man over the past number of years. In the days after Ashling's death I was having a conversation with a person who lives on the Dublin-Wicklow border. The person spoke of the sadness about the killing of Zeinat Bashabsheh. I was shocked because I did not realise that this had happened. She was a mother of five children who had been killed on Christmas Eve. Most of us read the newspapers and watch television, but this had completely passed me by. I was horrified and ashamed that something like that had passed me by. Obviously, there is an onus on me to read every newspaper that is available, but I checked the archives of the main broadsheets this morning and two of them and the national broadcaster had no reference to her name. Perhaps there was a mention somewhere, but not when I went through their archives this morning. Yes, it was Christmas Eve and there were plenty of distractions, but we have no excuse. Every woman's death has to be properly reported and we need to be shocked. The thing is that we have got used to this happening. If there is one legacy of Ashling's death, it is that we now are taking the harassment and murder of women in violent circumstances much more seriously.

In all this we must think about women of colour, women from minority ethnic backgrounds, trans women and women who were not born here but who live here. They must be an important part of the conversation that has to happen now. We look forward to working with the Minister on the strategy that is to be developed. I conclude by expressing my condolences to all the families who have lost loved ones at the hands of a violent person over the years.

Photo of Mary FitzpatrickMary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for coming to the House today for this debate and for all the work that she and her Department are doing. It was her intention anyway to come forward with the new policy. I have a lot of confidence in her to deliver a new strategy. It is a strategy that needs to be holistic. All of the answers do not come from the Department of Justice, but that Department and the Minister have the task of leading on this.

I extend my condolences again to the family, friends and community of Ashling Murphy and all the families, friends and communities that have been impacted by violence, particularly violence against women. With regard to my constituency, Dublin Central, I particularly want to send sympathy and support to the families of Urantsetseg Tserendorj and Amanda Carroll, who were murdered. Amanda Carroll was murdered in Cabra. Jennie Poole was a young woman murdered in Finglas.

Today we have all spoken about violence and the need for us to have a zero-tolerance approach to it. I agree with that, obviously, but we also need to recognise that violence has been very much normalised in our society. If we are to say our ambition is to have zero tolerance, we need to approach the task by recognising that something desperately destructive has become normalised in our society. We are aware of this from everyday encounters and real-life experiences that have been described by others, including every woman in this Chamber. Every woman has been affected by casual violence, insidious violence and undercover violence. It can be emotional, economical, physical or verbal. It is not limited to women. It is really important that we engage men in this conversation. To be fair to most men, they are very engaged in this conversation and with this subject. We need to support them and encourage their participation because they are as much of a solution as any of us.

Many of my colleagues and I have had conversations about this subject. I have a husband, a dad and two young adult sons, so I have had many conversations with men about violence. One man gave of his time to share his views with me. I cannot get over his generosity and strength. He was Jason Poole, Jennie's Poole's brother. He met me and Deputy McAuliffe, the Deputy in his area, who knows him well. Mr. Poole shared with us his experiences. I am not going to go into them in full detail. Jennie should not have had to experience what happened and her family and children should not have had to experience what happened. We, as a society, cannot tolerate what they have gone through.

I want to share some of the suggestions that Mr. Poole has made. Maybe at some point, as the Minister progresses with her work, we might be able to find time for her to talk to Mr. Poole directly. I do not know where he is finding the strength and generosity to share his views. The first thing he said — today's debate helps with this but it must go much further — is that we need to have greater awareness of the warning signs. He was focusing on domestic abuse and violence in particular because that is what killed his sister. He really does want action on a wider awareness campaign on the signs of domestic violence. He suggested there should be more sensitivity training for anyone in a role that involves engaging with victims. He spoke about everybody from gardaí to teachers and healthcare workers, in addition to staff from Tusla, local authorities and housing agencies. He wants greater social awareness of the signs. He commended the Garda for its work but believed there are specific actions that could be taken to improve how the Garda is equipped to respond to circumstances of domestic violence. In particular, he suggested having a dedicated garda in each unit responsible for championing responses to domestic violence and best practice in that regard. He talked about gardaí being trained and empowered to remove offenders from a situation. He said consideration should be given to giving powers to the chief superintendent to apply emergency barring and safety orders. He talked about the barring orders.

Senator Clifford-Lee and others mentioned the court process and free legal aid, all of which issues are part of the Minister's strategy to be addressed. Mr. Poole talked about the journey a victim of domestic abuse has to take and the decision to make a call and raise the flag. It is not just about the wraparound services, which are absolutely needed, but the journey the victim must take to go to the Garda, after which they must go to court. Mr. Poole gave clear and simple examples of actions that could be taken to provide better wraparound supports for victims in such circumstances. The victims are absolutely traumatised and it takes all their strength just to get through the next few moments.

Mr. Poole also spoke about the judges and the courts system. In this regard, he talked about training and awareness. He wants a register of offenders. He really believes the information should be in the public domain. If somebody has been a domestic abuser, their name should be on a register. The information should be available. Obviously, the individual should be supported through rehabilitation but, as a society, we need to have a register and a national programme to raise awareness and say loudly and clearly that zero tolerance is not just a catchphrase but something that we are all committed to in every element of our society, including schools and workplaces. We must ensure that we live in a safe community and country and that Ireland can be a country where every woman, girl, boy, man and transgender person can feel safe to live, work and enjoy life.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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The Minister is very welcome to the House for what is one of the most important debates we have had here in a long time. The murder of Ashling Murphy has brought a focus on this issue. It should not have taken such an event for this to happen. I commend the Minister on her very much hands-on approach to this issue, not just in the past couple of weeks but since she took up her position as Minister for Justice. We are very lucky to have her in that role. I believe she will ensure a difference is made.

It is critical for the men in this House to stand up and speak on this issue. The statistics show that 25% of women have suffered from domestic and sexual abuse. That means that of five female friends — we all have five female friends — at least one, and possibly two, will have suffered in this regard. That is totally unacceptable. What is also totally unacceptable is the culture that has pertained over the years in respect of women's access to healthcare, education, equal pay and justice. It is not acceptable that women have to fight for everything. Graphs and statistics show that even in the private sector, women are underpaid by comparison with men. That should not be acceptable, allowed or tolerated. We have a job of work to do. If we all put this at the top of our agenda and are prepared to roll up our sleeves, we will make a difference, because we have to make a difference. It is critical. Society also has to change and that can only happen through education, by removing the stereotyping of women with pink dolls and men having blue. All of that type of narrative needs to go. If we are trying to create a truly equal society, it has to start with young children in primary school having respect ingrained in their curriculum and in their activities every day of the week. It also needs to extend to families, and that is where society plays a role. People are influenced. It is said that something like 70% of your character is established and developed by the age of four or five. That means we need to really work to ensure that the message of equality is in primary schools and crèches and that it then percolates up along the line.

As a country, we should be ashamed of ourselves in terms of how we have treated women, but also how we have treated members of the Travelling community. The absolute discrimination that takes place against members of the Travelling community in this country is horrendous, particularly Traveller women. It is appalling. We have plenty of discrimination against non-nationals who come to work in this country - the new Irish - and we saw it manifested in the presidential election in 2018. What happened in that election was an indictment but it is symptomatic of an attitude, an approach and a view.

As someone with a disability, I talk with some little bit of personal experience of how people with disabilities have been treated in this country, particularly women with disabilities. It is shocking. We look at a situation where 85% of people with disabilities in this country are unemployed and cannot get work. What kind of a society is that? It is simply not good enough.

What has happened in the last month, in my view, has created a conversation that should have happened years ago but it is happening now. We need to see fundamental change, led by the Government but embraced by society and promoted by our education system, community groups and sporting organisations. Every single person in this country has a role to play. Every single man in this country has a role to play. We all have to do better, and we all have to commit to doing better. Let the death of Ashling Murphy be the start of a complete and fundamental rebooting of our society and our attitude in society to women, to minority groups, to members of the Travelling community, to people with disabilities, to people who are gay and bisexual, and so on. Every person in this country is equal. Every person is born equal. They need to go through their lives as equal people. When they retire and pass on, they need to have lived a life of equality, where every man, woman and child in this country is treated with respect and treated as an equal. Until we achieve that, we cannot really be proud of the last 100 years as an independent society.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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I was always going to find this difficult today. I am very hurt, upset and annoyed over recent developments, in particular the murders and the treatment of women. I listened to Senator Boylan and I know what happened to Senator Hoey and the lewd acts they had to witness. If I am not mistaken, one of their Fine Gael colleagues has had a similar experience recently. It is shocking and outrageous. In regard to that lewd act, I believe we should look at bringing in a serious sentence for men who would carry out such acts online or in front of any woman. It is utterly disgraceful. We do not address that issue well enough. I am sorry Senator Boylan had to go through that. It is deplorable, it is shameful and it is outrageous that any male would do that.

I want to bring it down to a very personal level. We have a daughter of 23 who teaches in this country. She teaches first class in primary school. She goes for a run almost every day. I have never spoken about what I would do and what a thousand men would do but if she was gone from home for more than an hour, running the back roads, where she could be running 10 km, I would take my car down to that area, park it and go walking, because of that fear of her or her friends being attacked by a male. I know thousands of men do that. We have a huge hill-walking area beside us which is very popular. Since this most recent tragedy, I say to my female neighbours that when I see them go running or walking at dusk, I am watching out until I see them coming back to the house, but I would never have said that to them until this tragedy happened.

The shortcoming from me and from most men is that when we were doing those sort of things to stand by women, we did not make a public debate about it. We stayed silent about it. We know that, in our own gender, there are people we cannot trust. It is mainly men.

I have huge faith in what the Minister is doing. I know she had started this new policy prior to recent events and I have no doubt she will carry it out. From a male perspective, I will do everything I can and everything I am asked, and I will help out and make suggestions.

I want to give a few statistics on this issue. As has been quoted on a number of occasions, since 1996, on average nine women per year have been killed in this country and the total figure is 244. In 2020, there were 38 murders and six of those, some 15.8%, were of women - innocent women. While all murders are wrong, whether drug-related or not, it is terrible to think that six innocent women died like that in 2020. I did some research in regard to the world situation. Another figure from 2020 is that 47,000 women were killed by intimate partners or family members in 2020, which averages 137 a day. The point I want to stress is that 80% of those killings were carried out by men or teenage boys, and that is not to take into account other areas of murder, but the figure is 47,000 women, or 137 every day in the world. There is a huge problem in Ireland and across the world.

We have another problem with some of the media coverage. There is something that has sickened me in the last ten years. Prior to Christmas, we have the build-up in regard to the soaps, which I know are hugely popular. What is the big point? It is that there is going to be a mysterious killing or a disappearance of a woman. Some people might say that it should be highlighted in a soap but I do not. That is not the reason it is being highlighted. It is being highlighted to up the ratings on the television shows - that is why it is being done. I will back that up. In the two or three weeks prior to that soap being shown over the Christmas period, many media outlets take on an actor or a writer from those soaps, building this up, hyping it up in the media. That should not be allowed.

I have a letter with me from a young lady I know. Anybody can see the letter because I think we need to show the validity of what we have. As I said, I know this lady.She wrote:

I’m sure Minister McEntee has great intentions [in relation to tackling this issue] and protecting women but I’m curious to know what her male colleagues are doing to ensure an end to this war on women? After all this is not just a female issue.

As stated in my previous email I stand strongly on the stance that it is downright disgraceful that women carrying self defense pepper spray or a tazor can receive the same sentence as someone carrying a gun. This is a 5 year sentence [or up to five years]. Our options are break the law and risk a 5 year sentence but stand a chance of survival if attacked or face an attack with nothing to defend ourselves and at this stage we all know the likely outcome of that. Tell me do you think this fair? Do you think this is safe?

I am not condoning violence, but that lady makes a very strong point.

In conclusion, I extend my deepest sympathies to the Murphy family - father, mother, sister and brother - and Ashling's boyfriend, Ryan Casey, whose life has been absolutely destroyed. His grandparents were giving them a site to build a house. I understand they had a wonderful relationship for up to five years. What happened is just horrendous and terrible. Like most men, I promise that we recognise we have a huge role to play here and we will do it.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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She only went for a run, Ashling Murphy. We have all been talking about it ever since her poor body was found. All of this hype will pass but Ashling's mother, father, sister, brother and other relations will have to live with their grief forever. It is really sad that we have been brought to this. I am the brother of eight sisters, the son of a wonderful mother, the husband of a wonderful and tolerant wife, and the father of a daughter. I have a daughter-in-law and two granddaughters. I cannot believe what I have heard here today. I have never been told by any of my sisters that they have been afraid to walk anywhere. I do not disbelieve what I heard, by the way. Senators should not get me wrong; I am horrified that we have arrived at this place in society where women cannot feel safe walking and where people feel they have to look over their shoulder to see who is coming behind them. I am actually horrified by it. I was walking behind a person on a corridor in this building the other day and I thought I should slow my pace slightly because I was getting too close. That is wrong. It is wrong in every sense of the word.

Many Members have spoken this afternoon. The only thing that came out of all of this for me is that I have to reappraise the way I live my life. Maybe the things that I once thought were funny are not so bloody funny after all. Maybe the people, particularly women, who stood in company with me down through the years and heard sexist jokes were not really laughing. Maybe they just felt they had to laugh. Maybe they felt intimidated by the company they were in at the time. Maybe they thought they had to be part of the gang.

In my time as president of the Teachers Union of Ireland, I was horrified by some of the stories I heard of 13-year-old kids engaged in sexual acts. I recall one of my colleagues saying that in the context of young girls in particular, it was not that they wanted to engage in the acts they were engaged in, it was that they thought they should because that was the norm. A principal spoke to me about wanting to introduce a proper sex education programme in his school. It was to be a proper programme that would explain consent, what is right and what is not. He came up against parents. The parents said he was not going to teach that to their kids. He told them he was quite prepared to try to work with them on it but, at the end of the day, it is something that has to be on the syllabus and has to be done. He met with massive opposition to any discussion whatsoever on sex. This is an issue for all of us in society today. We have to rethink the way we think about these things. Growing up as a young man in County Galway, there was only one sin. We were sent to confession every Friday and there was only one sin and that sin was sex. I do not blame the church or anybody else for that; it is just the way society was at the time.

I do not know how I will change my life. I do not know how I will find the courage to say to my male colleagues who send me a joke or tell me something that it is inappropriate and I really do not want to hear it any more. I do not know how I will do that. I will look to the women whom I know and love to maybe put a bit of smacht on me and change the way I live my life.

The case of Ashling Murphy is terrible; there is no doubt at all about that. We have heard stories this afternoon and ever since Ashling died about how difficult it is for women to live in this country and that is something we have to change. I do not know how we will change it. I have great faith in the ability of the Minister to bring forward legislation, but legislation is not worth diddly squat if we do not implement it. That starts from the ground up.

I spent several days as a juror in Limerick some years ago. Every day, the judge came in at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. and told us the case was adjourned for the day and to come back tomorrow. Five or six days into the trial, he told us the case was going ahead but the members of the jury were no longer required and he wanted to thank us. The juror sitting beside me asked what the hell the judge meant by saying we were no longer required, seeing as how we had been there for several days. We were told it was a case of rape and the perpetrator had pleaded guilty so there would be no trial; he would be sentenced and that was it. The juror told me that she was not going home until she saw who the fella was. I told her I would sit with her. The next thing, the defendant was brought into court. He was dressed in a white shirt, red tie, navy blue sports jacket, grey trousers and immaculately polished shoes. He looked like a person who just bought I do not know what. He looked well. He looked as if he was well-to-do. I looked at him and waited. We then found out the story behind the case. At 12 midday on O'Connell Street in Limerick city he grabbed a young woman, pulled her into an alleyway and raped her. He did that at midday. Please tell me how he could even think of such a thing at that time of the day.

There is a big lesson here for us all but I do not know how we will learn it. I could stand up here and say I have been reformed. I have been horrified and I have to look into my own self now and see how I can change who I am to be the sort of man who will not accept from my fellow men some of the misogynistic and sexist jokes that I once found funny. To the women I love, I apologise that I found them funny. To those in my company with other men who felt they had to laugh but really were not laughing, I apologise. There is nothing we can do to change what has happened but we can change what will happen going forward. I thank the Minister for her time. She has been very patient today.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I apologise for missing some of the debate. I was tied up for other reasons. I will go back and listen to what was said. It is clear that quite horrifying personal stories have been told today, as was the case in the Dáil, of life experience in a culture that is quite chilling. I brought my daughter to the vigil because I wanted to stand with a sense of hope that somehow the world in which she will grow up will be transformed and changed in some way. I worked for several years as a counselling psychologist and a psychotherapist. I counselled people coming through domestic violence or after domestic violence, as well as perpetrators of domestic violence, so I felt I had an idea, a handle and an understanding of this issue but something about the sheer presence of people outside Leinster House that afternoon brought about different thoughts in me. I thought about the fact that I knew Nadine Lott. I have a very good friend whose sister-in-law was murdered by her partner. I know of other situations.I started counting them up. Of the ones that I did not encounter from a professional standpoint - maybe a person somehow wears the mantle of protection if he or she is there as the counsellor and supporter - I looked and thought "Hold on a minute, let's start counting here within our life experience and within the sphere of my friends and the people in my life." These violent experiences have touched our lives. It was the first time that I thought it is all around us. It is everywhere. I then started thinking about the things that I dismissed in my life. I found myself with a design team at one stage when I was chief executive of an organisation. The entire design team was male. We were about to spend €15 million and the lead architect, when he started the first meeting, said "You'll be taking minutes, won't you?" I had a male colleague, whom I later married, who turned around and said, "I don't think so."

That is clearly no comparison to what has been shared in this House, but it is an example of that assumption of subservience, of the place of women and the place they should automatically take. As a consequence, you have to be abrasive and aggressive and you have to confront and adopt a life that is about taking these things on one by one. We should not have to do that. We are then accused of being aggressive. I am thinking of some of the things I have got passionate or assertive about where I have been told that I was upset and needed to calm down. It is dismissive, once you assert who you are. If you do assert who you are, then you are a piece of work and a whole heap of words go with that. I have never counted that and have always just taken it on the chin. It is a little like the social media abuse we get as politicians. When I first spoke about it, the Garda in Terenure rang me to ask why I did not report it. I thought it was just something I had to take as part of the course of my life. It never occurred to me to report it because there is something in our psyche that says it is okay for us to be treated that way. We resent it, but we brace ourselves for it, or cushion ourselves for or against it.

I find the Women's Aid advertisement very powerful. It never comes on but I do not break down in tears and think that I love the phrase "the world's strongest women" because they are. There is something in that act that moves the locus of shame. Yet women have to carry the break-up of the family, including where the children will live, what they will do and whether they have a refuge to go to. They have to almost carry the responsibility when they are victims and not perpetrators. We have got to do a big piece on the perpetrator in our lives being where the shame stands. There is a piece of education that needs to start from birth. Women, when they are presented with the key to their door, as I was, are not taught how to hold it. There are things like that we should not ever have to do. I fear that the work is so great, it is almost overwhelming.

There is a list of exceptionally fine actions that were being taken long before recent events. There is no doubt that under the Minister's leadership on this issue extraordinary work has been carried out. We need to change the culture. One of my team rang me up to say that "Help her feel safe" needs to be the theme. It needs to include dedicated evenings in the park that are women only. There needs to be the sense that if a man is walking behind a woman, maybe he should cross the road. I come in and out of the argument in my own head about how we should cope with it. How do we create a safe place for everybody to discuss what that is? How do we make sure that women are not by their very nature demonised?

I will finish shortly; I am conscious of the time. I devilled, which was my year's training after being called to the Bar, in 2012. I used to get in very early in the morning to be ahead of all the stuff for the day. One morning there was a conversation between two male counsel. The prosecuting counsel, who was an exceptional barrister, was heavily pregnant. The conversation between the two men was that they hoped the jury would not be swayed by her pregnancy in the determination. I spoke up because I cannot not speak up in that scene and gave a very clear retort, which is probably why I am not practising at the Bar at present but am in the Chamber. I am here because I cannot keep quiet and play by the rules. We cannot do that. I then think, my God, next month or next year those counsel could be prosecutors, defenders or cross-examining women in the dock. We need a massive overhaul. I know from the Tom O'Malley report that a significant amount of work and training has been done. People like Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop, during her time at the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and since, have done extraordinary work in retraining and ensuring there is an awareness of and sensitivity towards women.

I commend our work but we have got to figure out a way to fundamentally change how we approach this issue. It needs to start from birth.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. The context and background for today's debate is clear. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Murphy family in Tullamore. We grieve the outrageous attack on and murder of their beloved Ashling. We double down and commit to doubling down on our determination as politicians and members of Irish society to do everything in our power to tackle and overcome anything that contributes to such violence.

It goes without saying that concern about violence against women, about attitudes towards women in our society and about any issue regarding the socialisation of boys and men that might contribute towards violence against women must always be high on our agenda in the Oireachtas. Violence against women is a problem that must be overcome. I acknowledge the personal testimonies that have been expressed here today. I express my own sympathy and sorrow that any colleagues of mine, or anybody at all, should have to endure such a thing. I had the strange experience of being conned out of money last night and had the very good fortune of actually meeting the con man today. I had a satisfactory encounter, shall we say, but the thought occurred to me as I came to the Chamber this evening how little I have to worry about in that my encounter with crime was not one that involved fear. It was one that involved getting back into the driving seat and being able to overcome the annoyance I felt at being conned.

I called for a debate on violence in our society more generally in recent weeks. I did so because issues are surfacing in our society that go beyond the issue of violence against women, as important and troubling as that is whenever it occurs, which is all too frequently. It touches on questions that, if we confine ourselves to discussing violence against women exclusively, we might fail to detect and discuss. That would be to the detriment of our struggle against violence against women and other forms of violence in our society. I am also conscious that we are putting ourselves at a remove, in a sense, from what occurred in Tullamore when we talk about causes and effects. A process is now under way and nothing we want to say should cast any light or shadow of any kind on what must take place there.

I am not praising or criticising anything that has been said by others. I just want to make a few general points. I will not have time to make them all and I apologise if some of what I am saying will sound very theoretical. I sat down to get my thoughts together on this and to write them out. Whenever a major event occurs that causes significant emotional upheaval, it is natural for people to want to comment and for people with particular points of view to seek to draw a link between what has occurred and the point of view they want to advance. There is often a grain of truth, or even substantial truth, in their perspective, but we must always remember that the problem with focusing on grains of truth, or only on some of the grains of truth, is that we might end up with a distorted perspective on reality.

For example, if there is evidence of racist attitudes in the workplace, or even among children in a schoolroom, how causative is that of an act of violence in a given situation, where the perpetrator and the victim of crime are of different racial backgrounds? We know that we cannot eliminate some differences and it would be wrong to try. We also know that we should try to promote respect for people who are different from us. However, if a crime occurs where such a difference between people exists, let us say in the hypothetical situation of racial difference, does that indicate that we have not succeeded in tackling, or even tried hard enough to tackle or succeeded enough in promoting, the issue of the respect we all believe in?While we want to make linkages, we always need to be careful. The causes are not always clear cut. I would contend, for example, that it was wrong to say that single-sex schools are a causative factor of violence against women or even that they are at some level of a pyramid at the apex of which are acts of violence towards women. That does not help. That is why, even while we engage with the personal difficulties of all of this and the horror of it, we need also to look at what precisely is being said, what fits the jigsaw and what does not.

When we focus on the subset of a problem, let us not endanger solidarity in society. Say, for example, there is a heavy focus on bullying around sexual identity or other issues. Does that subtract from the focus we need to have on bullying based on disability, physical characteristics, religious difference or whatever? It goes without saying that where there is systemic bullying of a particular kind, there may be a need to address that pretext but often a pretext is only a pretext and the real problems have to do with bullies' attitudes to themselves, to other people and to violence as a means of masking insecurity - all sorts of things that apply regardless.

There is a broader set of questions that we need to think about. Does the prevalence of pornography and violence in the media and online cause depravity? Are there issues about mental health and those suffering from mental health? We rightly promote the approach of community-based care, but are there people who should be in institutions? I say that as a person who lost a dear friend who was murdered by a person who should not have been at large in society. Are there issues about our integration of minorities in society? I say that as somebody who is, and always has been and will continue to be, strongly supportive of generous immigration policies. Is there a problem of excessive drinking, the importation and widespread consumption of illegal drugs and attitudes towards this? Is that leading to violence? Is there a loss of the sense of meaning and purpose in life connected with a decline of religious faith contributing to a growing individualism, to the decline of a sense of moral obligation to be gentle, respectful and inclusive towards others and to a culture of recklessness and a venting of resentment, all of which involve a disregard for law and morality? Does the loss of a sense of distinct abilities and roles of men and women in our society and a loss of respect for the sanctity of life in some of our laws contribute to the problem?

The personal testimonies of injury and violence suffered heard here again today, as I have said, deserve our sympathy and support and - I say in the same breathe - it is vital that we include all members of the community in the discussion about how we get to a better place. I will not fault those who hashtag "not all men". They are entitled to express that truth into the discussion. They are not trying to cover up for evil doers. It is vital that we ask not only some of the questions but all of the questions about why violence towards women and other forms of violence happens in society and it is vital that we do not end up cocooned here in Parliament somehow separated from the broader discussion that is going on in society about why some of these things are happening.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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As I am chairing this portion of the debate, I take this opportunity to thank everyone. Obviously, I do not agree with the comments of everyone - having debate is what the Chamber is about - but it has been a welcome debate. Some have mentioned that they are shocked by some of things that some of the women have said. Personally, I am shocked that people are shocked by some of what has been said because they strike a chord with many of us. That there is that level of shock that we walk around in the world afraid and always having to look out for ourselves and that others are not aware of that is striking. I thank those women who have shared their experiences. I also think of those women who have not. The world is made up of many women who are living with experiences and that is important to mention as well. I call on the Minister to conclude the debate.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I thank all the Senators for their contributions. I thank those who have given of their own personal lived experience because it is not easy to do, certainly not standing in Parliament. Indeed, I thank those who have spoken on behalf of victims and survivors.

I thank everyone for their proposals and suggestions. I genuinely mean this. There is no right or wrong answer. I want to work with everyone. Where there are suggestions and proposals, I have obviously taken note today but if there is anything further that Senators wish to give to me, I would very much like to and will engage with the Senators on it.

I stated at the outset that there is no one person or one group, no one policy or one law, that will address this issue. It is about collectively, each and every one of us, working together in this House and in the Dáil. It is Government, all Departments, State agencies, the community and voluntary sector, and front-line workers, and each and every one of us. It is, at the crux of all of that, listening to victims, listening to survivors and listening to that lived experience.

We need to make this moment count. I say that in no way ignoring, removing or diminishing the 244 women who have been killed since 1996, and those before them. It is in no way to diminish the lived experience of the many victims and survivors who we have heard from or, indeed, the many women who are at home or will go home today and are in fear for themselves and for their children, but we need to make this moment count. I will do everything I can to make sure that I play my part and I would ask that each and every one of us does what we can to play our part and to make this moment count.

I thank everyone for their contributions. I look forward to working with Senators. I will not repeat all of the work that we are doing. Obviously, this involves not only the Department of Justice but each and every Department and each and every one of us in society trying to tackle this issue.

To comment on zero tolerance, I appreciate it might seem aspirational but to me there is no other alternative as a goal or objective. We cannot have anything less than zero tolerance, either in the criminal justice system or in society. While it might seem like an aspirational goal, as far as I am concerned there is nothing more or less that we can aspire to than zero tolerance of any kind of violence, abuse or discrimination against women.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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Next Tuesday at 2.30 p.m.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ag 5.38 p.m. go dtí 2.30 p.m., Dé Máirt, an 1 Feabhra 2022.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.38 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 1 February 2022.