The past week has seen people across the country mourn the loss of Ashling Murphy, a beautiful young woman who represents the very best of us. We all stand in solidarity with Ashling’s family, including Ray, Kathleen, Cathal and Amy, her boyfriend Ryan, and her community. I offer my deepest condolences to them. May Ashling rest in peace. The many strands of her cruelly short life were brought together yesterday in a funeral that was distinctly Irish. There was wonderful music that reminded us of her talent, as well as the support of the communities of Mountbolus, Blueball and Tullamore, the pupils from her school in Durrow, her camogie teammates and so many others.
I was struck in particular by a collection of photographs of Ashling. Photographs are a snapshot in time but they offer us a window into someone's life. There were photographs of happy occasions and of generations of her family and communities coming together and sitting around the same table, singing, dancing and playing music together. This is something we all know and cherish. There were Snapchat posts of Ashling and her friends on nights out and photographs of them travelling and discovering the world for themselves. What we saw in those photos we see in our own lives. They are moments that are so familiar to all of us. Perhaps that is why Ashling’s death has struck a chord with so many of us. In Ashling, we see our sisters, our daughters and our mothers. In her family, we see our own, and as women, we see ourselves. We can all put ourselves in Ashling's position and in her shoes. While we might not be runners we all put ourselves in a position where we are out walking or taking exercise and for something like this to happen is shocking.
I have struggled this week, as have many others, with a mixture of emotions. I have felt shock, disbelief, anger, upset and determination. I am not alone in this House when I say I cried many times this week, not just for Ashling but for others, such as Urantsetseg Tserendorj, Jastine Valdez, Ana Kriegel, Nadine Lott, and so many others. These are names we know and others that are not familiar to us. This is why we stand in solidarity and anger, but also in quiet determination that we must all work together to achieve a shared goal of zero tolerance of violence and abuse against women.
I have prioritised this issue since becoming Minister for Justice but I am well aware that much more needs to be done. The solutions will not come from legislation alone, nor can we tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence simply by treating it as a criminal justice issue. What is required is societal and cultural change. We have failed, quite simply, if we allow ourselves to get to a situation where some men develop such unhealthy attitudes towards women that it leads them to commit these types of crimes and end up in the criminal justice system. As the Taoiseach said, I am leading the development of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. We have been working on this strategy for over a year and we listened to those in the sector and those who work on the front line.
I am so grateful for their work, support and contributions. We have listened to victims and survivors.
I will receive input from across Government from the Departments of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Social Protection, Transport and so on. There will also be input from our State agencies. The strategy will be underpinned by clear actions, timelines for reform and robust accountability mechanisms and it will be resourced as it should be. It will be built on four pillars, namely, prevention, protection, prosecution and policy co-ordination. The goal is very clear: zero tolerance of violence and abuse against women.
To prevent violence against and abuse of women, we must eradicate the societal and cultural attitudes which make women feel unsafe. We can only do so by changing our cultural attitudes in order to ensure that we are not all bystanders and that we do not look the other way but, rather, call out inappropriate behaviour when and everywhere we see it in the workplace, the dressing room, the pub, the golf club or in a WhatsApp group.
We also have to face up to and tackle the appalling effect easy access to pornography is having on boys. Pornography is not new, but how it is accessed, how accessible it has become and the fact it has become even more violent is having such a detrimental and damaging impact on young men and women. We must intervene early to teach our sons appropriate lessons, from primary school up to every level of our education, and we must focus on healthy relationships, gender equality and consent.
The Government will help lead conversations in this regard in to bring about a better understanding among men. My Department will soon launch a national campaign on consent. I know that so many men have been thinking deeply about this over the past week. I have seen so much commentary on social media and elsewhere. We cannot do this without men. We need them to stand with us. We need to make this change and make sure this moment counts.
For victims, coming forward to report what is happening to them is often the hardest decision. There is a responsibility on all of us to protect victims when they look for our help by ensuring that there is a refuge space, if that is what they need, by supporting more women to live safely in their own homes, if that is their choice, by reassuring victims that they will be treated with dignity and respect by the criminal justice system and through Supporting a Victim’s Journey, my plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases. We are making progress.
While this is not simply a criminal justice issue, as Minister for Justice, I want to be clear. I will do whatever it takes to make sure that perpetrators are investigated, prosecuted and face the full rigours of the law, that the punishment matches the crime, that the Garda will have the resources and technology it needs and that our laws are adequate and strong enough to bring abusers to justice. I acknowledge the dedicated work by An Garda Síochána in its investigation into Ashling’s murder. I know that the Garda is determined to bring her killer to justice, as is the position with every case.
This year I will introduce legislation to strengthen the law in a number of areas. The new Garda Síochána (powers) Bill 2021 will provide a clear and transparent statutory basis for the existing powers of search, arrest and detention. The Garda Síochána (digital recording) Bill 2021 will provide for the use of the necessary modern technology in the investigation of serious crime. This will help with domestic and sexual violence. Before Easter, I will publish a Bill that will include new criminal offences for stalking and non-fatal strangulation. The act of stalking is already covered by existing law, but I will propose the following changes to make the law even clearer and stronger. We will explicitly reference stalking as a criminal offence. I will make it clear that stalking includes watching or following a person, even if the person does not know that he or she is being watched or followed. I will also make it clear that impersonating the victim and then contacting a third person is illegal. I will update the law to ensure that it covers all forms of communication. I will also consider introducing a provision to allow a victim, in a very serious case, to apply to the court for an order to prevent an alleged perpetrator from contacting him or her before the trial. I especially want to thank Eve McDowell and Una Ring who have campaigned tirelessly for this, and Senator Lisa Chambers who has worked hard on this issue in the Seanad.
While choking and strangulation are already illegal, creating a new offence will encourage victims to come forward and report what has happened to them. It has been shown that this crime can be an indication of future lethal violence and, in particular, is a risk factor in the context of homicides of women in their own homes. As the Taoiseach mentioned, I will publish a new criminal justice (hate crime) Bill that will introduce new specific aggravated offences with enhanced penalties for crimes motivated by prejudice against certain characteristics, including gender.
Before the end of September, I will publish a new sexual offences Bill that will introduce important changes, one of which includes the extension of victim anonymity to further categories of victims. I will also repeal provisions for sentences to be delivered in public. This legislation will introduce legal representation for victims.
I will also seek to enact the Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2021 within the coming months in order to strengthen the management and monitoring of sex offenders in the community. Within weeks, I will sign the order to bring into operation legislation that provides for preliminary trial hearings. This will significantly improve the trial process for victims of sexual offences. I will bring forward more legislation and policy, if needed.
I accept what those working on the front line have told us, namely, that the services the Government and the State are too diffuse and need to be streamlined. Victims should always have easy access and should always understand the supports and resources available to them. We are taking action to make change.
Following consultation with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, it is intended that the responsibility for policy and service provision for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence will be combined under the Minister for Justice. Work is under way on how this will be structured. I will announce further details in the coming weeks. I thank the dedicated staff of Tusla who continue to focus on supporting efforts in this area. As the Taoiseach outlined, there will be oversight from the Department of the Taoiseach to make sure that everything we do is delivered.
I cannot stand here today and say "Never again". Unfortunately, I cannot say that no woman will suffer at the hands of a man tonight. None of us can. What we can do is commit to Ashling and so many other women and we can commit to each other that we will dedicate ourselves to the long and difficult path of change. We all know the pain, upset and story only too well. Let us all hold on to the determination and solidarity that exists among us this week and come together in a common cause, on behalf of Ashling and so many other women, to demand zero tolerance of any kind of violence against or abuse of women.