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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 25 Jan 2022

Vol. 1016 No. 6

Violence against Women: Statements (Resumed)

I join Members once again in reading into the record of the House my deepest condolences to Ashling Murphy's family; her boyfriend, Ryan; her friends; her work colleagues; her pupils; and members of her local and wider community in County Offaly. Although nearly two weeks have passed since this tragic occurrence, there remains a palpable sense of shock in every community throughout the country. The outpouring of grief, support and demonstration is a very clear indication to us that the issue of violence against women has been simmering beneath the surface of our society on a much wider scale than had previously been recognised. Although Ashling Murphy's immediate community in County Offaly has closely felt the harsh brunt of this trauma, the chilling effect on women has rippled out to every corner of our island. As a national community, we are now facing the harsh reality that many women in Ireland are, unfortunately, living in fear of violence. We must reflect deeply on this and the picture it portrays of our so-called "modern society" if women do not feel safe in their own communities.

I very much welcome the comments of the Minister for Justice in this House last week on the development of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, has been working on this strategy for over a year and has listened to those in the sector and those who work on the front line. The work, support and contribution from the front-line cohort will prove invaluable to this process, as will the input of victims and survivors. Obviously, it can be very difficult for victims and survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault and other forms of violence against women to relive the traumas they have suffered, but they have done so with the greater good in mind, and I commend them on their heroic efforts. There is a whole-of-government approach to the development of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The process will receive input 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, and I am truly encouraged that the all-embracing nature of this approach reflects a tenacious determination from all of us in government to make a lasting impact on this issue. I am reassured that this strategy will be underpinned by clear actions, timelines for reform and robust accountability mechanisms. Having discussed such matters with my Government colleagues this past week, I am also confident that this process will be provided with the necessary resources. It will be built on four pillars, namely prevention, protection, prosecution and policy co-ordination. The goal, as stated by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice last week, is very clear: zero tolerance of violence and abuse against women.

Everyone has a contribution to make to this movement, which needs to start from the ground up and requires not just a whole-of-government approach but a whole-of-society response also. We must not and cannot accept a situation by which fear, harassment and violence towards women is normalised to any degree. We cannot be bystanders. We must call out all misogyny, intimidation and violence against women by men when we witness it. As I stated last week, men can make a huge difference in this process in leading by example, showing our younger boys and men that such behaviours are no longer acceptable and need to be replaced by an enhanced level of respect for women. The men in our society need to be more active and understanding about the issues which face women in this country each and every day.

I believe there is a strong willingness among the majority of men to be part of the solution and this is a positive starting point. However, we have an awful lot to do if we are to see the mass culture shift which is obviously required to better all facets of our society for women. We need to remind ourselves of all the women in our lives, who are so close to our hearts, as we strive for the monumental shift in culture that is required within our society. The mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, partners, nieces and friends we rely on in our everyday lives are the women we should look to for motivation on this journey toward meaningful change.

Two weeks ago, Ashling Murphy went out for a run along the canal in Tullamore. It was the start of the new year for the talented musician and much-loved beautiful young woman. She never made it home. Ashling's tragic and horrific death shocked the nation. I wish to convey my deepest sympathy to Ashling's family; her partner, Ryan; her friends; her colleagues; her pupils; and the community in which she was so loved and had an active part. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.

Ashling's death did indeed stun the country. It also brought us together to say that enough is enough and violence and abuse of women will not be tolerated anymore. Where we see it or hear it, we should call it out. We should call out whoever is involved in it. Whether that abuse or threat is in the workplace, in a person's home or online, we should it call the abuse out. I agree with the Taoiseach that it is time for a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women.

When I attended Ashling's funeral in St. Brigid's Church, close to her home in County Offaly last week, I was struck by the little notes placed alongside the candles in the nearby community centre which recalled Ashling in all her brilliance, youth, happiness and talent. The commitment of friends and fellow musicians was so evident at her funeral. I will never forget the tearful faces of the players, strumming on the guitar or playing the bosca ceoil, united in grief on that cold morning at the cross in Mountbolus as Ashling's remains passed. Scores of musicians later attended the graveside where she was buried. That moment showed how Irish rural communities rally round each other when there is pain or suffering.

Equally, as a society we can build support to ensure that violence against women ends. Violence against women is not a string of random, freak or isolated events. They are frightening to hear about and it is perhaps more comforting to think of them as individual. However, we will never move to a truly equal society until we admit the depth, breadth and pattern of gender-based violence. Whether in the most private or public of settings, the fact is that women and girls are less safe. As the House knows, work is progressing on a new whole-of-government strategy to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Work by the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, is nearing conclusion. The crux of the strategy is what we talked about: zero tolerance of violence against women. There are legislative improvements, too. The commencement of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 on 1 January 2019 created significant improvements, including the creation of the offence of coercive control. The Minister of Justice also prioritised the enactment of Coco's Law, which outlawed image-based sexual abuse, and she is committed to working on a Bill creating new criminal offences for stalking, an area on which Senator Chambers is also working. However, preventing abusive behaviour also requires an end to certain attitudes held by men. Misogyny in our society must stop. There is no easy way to end domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. It will take a combination of new, well-resourced services, robust legislation, fresh thinking, dynamic new strategies and above all, education and awareness.

Briefly, I will outline areas that I am progressing under my responsibility as Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. In relation to the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, an online safety commissioner will devise safety codes to ensure services minimise the availability of harmful content. This includes reducing the availability of criminal content that disproportionately hurts women, such as image-based abuse, revenge porn, threatening content and harassment, and reducing the availability of material used to bully or humiliate people. In relation to the protection of women in the arts, my Department recently funded the Irish Theatre Institute's report on bullying and harassment, Speak Up: A Call for Change. It found that 70% of those surveyed in the arts experienced some type of harm, including sexual harassment or assault, and women were three and a half times more likely to experience sexual harassment than men. In response, the allocation of public funds in arts agencies will now be in line with work safety and reporting rules. Counselling has also been extended for artists and work-based training has been improved. My Department is also funding vulnerability training courses in the night-time economy. The objective of six recent courses was to enable workers in the night-time economy to identify issues around vulnerability management and violence against women. Hundreds of staff across 70 venues took part and training was delivered with the support of An Garda Síochána, vintners groups and practitioners in night culture, such as Give Us The Night.

Whatever sphere of life violence enters through, it pierces the heart of every corner of life. One woman described it to me:

[It is] a source of great pain that it happened to me when I was a young woman. That scar never gets to truly heal over. It opens every time I hear of another woman who has been raped, assaulted or worse. The edges widen when that violence is diminished.

Tá mná agus cailíní ag éisteacht liom inniu atá ag fulaingt de bharr foréigin agus fanann sé leo ar feadh a saolta. Is iad ár máithreacha, ár n-iníonacha, ár ndeirfiúracha agus ár gcairde. Tá sé i ngach réimse den saol agus i ngach cearn den tír agus cibé áit atá sé, tá daoine ciaptha agus céasta dá bharr. Equality for women and girls, as our end goal, must start with the elimination of violence that has a basis in gender.

First, I wish to begin by expressing my heartfelt condolences to the family of Ashling Murphy on the tragic passing of their beautiful daughter, who was so full of life and had so much to do in life. There is so much hurt for her family to endure. I wish to express my deepest sympathy to her family, her boyfriend, her friends, her school and her community.

Ashling's death has brought the country to its knees in grief and has sharpened the political focus on violence against women in our country. Last October, Mary McDermott of Safe Ireland made a very comprehensive and chilling presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice in relation to the lack of joined-up thinking and inter-agency co-operation that is a glaring gap within our Government Departments. That needs to be addressed and changed. There are so many arms of the State that are required to provide a comprehensive response to this societal issue. New relations need to be forged between the Departments to respond swiftly to the crisis. Yesterday, we heard Chief Superintendent Colm Noonan from the Garda National Protective Services Bureau reference some really staggering figures. I am sure all Members listened to that interview on the news. In 2021, there were 48,000 incidents of domestic abuse, an increase of 10% on 2020; there were 8,600 charges for crimes involving an element of domestic abuse, up 13% on the previous 12 months; and there were 4,250 charges for breaches of the Domestic Violence Act, up 6% from 2020.

I want to take this opportunity to remember the women who have lost their lives across the Cavan-Monaghan area through violence. They are Sheila Lynch, aged 44, who died in December 1998; Sr. Philomena Lyons, who was 68 years of age and died in December 2001; Jamie Farrelly Maughan, aged 13, who died in July 2004; Amy Farrell, who was 21 years of age and died in January 2006; Patricia Kierans, aged 54, who died in September 2013; Antra Ozolina, who was 49 and died in June 2014; and Clodagh Hawe and her three boys, who died in 2016 in County Cavan.

I do not want any more names added to the list and I know that neither does the Minister. I want a comprehensive, compassionate Department that responds to the needs of women and their children who find themselves in these terrifying circumstances. I want safe environments throughout the country in refuges that provide highly specialised facilities. We know that at present nine counties are without these. Refuges should be designed to respond adequately to domestic violence. We do not want places that do not provide the facilities we need. They need to be innovative. We need to rethink and make sure we do not reinvent existing problems. I thank Siobhán McKenna from Tearmann, which does heroic work in Cavan and Monaghan protecting, supporting and advising women who find themselves in aggressive and violent situations.

I express my condolences to Ashling Murphy's family on what happened. In recent weeks all of us have received phone calls and emails in our offices from members of the public wanting to know where we stand on the issue of zero tolerance of domestic violence and gender-based violence and how we can do more to ensure we stamp it out forever. Many the issues we speak about particularly are with regard to sentencing. The guidelines relating to gender-based violence are a serious problem that many people in the general public have identified as an issue we can do something about. I implore the Minister to ensure adequate sentence guidelines are in place along with training for the Judiciary and members of the Garda Síochána who deal with this on an ongoing basis.

An issue that comes up all the time is overcrowding in our prisons, which leads to many violent offenders often being left out on bail. It is widespread in all sectors of criminality but it is certainly a problem when it comes to violent offenders of this nature. We want to see the Government move to a zero-tolerance approach. We do not want it just to be a discussion. We need to see it happen. We all want to work together to ensure it happens. At present we have a situation whereby a judge has to impose that a sex offender will not work with children or vulnerable people and it is not automatically part of a sex offender's order. We need to ensure it is made an automatic part of it.

This weekend the Irish Examiner had an interesting article. We all know the courage and evidence required for a judge to issue a domestic violence order. We found out that a number of gardaí have these orders in place. This is quite alarming. There is no restriction on the duties of these serving members of the Garda. They can often be called out to scenes of domestic violence. This is something on which we need to reflect. I encourage the Minister to speak to the Commissioner in this respect. It is something that has alarmed people. Gardaí are the guardians of the peace and to have no restriction on duty in this regard is quite alarming.

The Minister is aware of the reports this weekend of an incident in Sligo in my constituency of two very young women, in fact they are children, who were sexually attacked. I do not want to get into the case but many of us are thinking about it. If the DPP and Garda do a good job and there is a prosecution, we wonder what will happen when it goes to court. In many of these cases we see situations where it is the victim who is put on trial rather than the perpetrator. There are issues with questions such as what a victim was wearing and how she ended up in the situation. All of this needs to be dealt with adequately.

The brutal murder of Ashling Murphy has appalled us all. It has also shone a light on what women in this country have had to live with forever. Last night I watched a programme on television that highlighted the case of the Kerry babies. Joanne Hayes is another woman whose life was destroyed by a sustained campaign of institutional violence against her that lasted almost 40 years. The State apologies while trying to sweep our shame under the carpet are not good enough at this stage. Gender-based violence is endemic in our society. It is time we were mature enough to recognise it and, more importantly, to do something about it.

One crime that saw reports skyrocket during the pandemic is domestic violence and this has been mentioned by many speakers. It was seen in every county. However, the budgets for 2021 and 2022 failed to address it in any meaningful way or to prioritise domestic violence as a Statewide problem. Official Ireland ignores the reality while women live in fear and suffer appalling violence.

A 2020 report by Transport Infrastructure Ireland found that more than 50% of women would not use public transport at night. One in 10 women surveyed in Dublin had experienced sexual harassment on public transport. This is unacceptable. Only last year we found out that gardaí had cancelled more than 3,000 999 calls relating to domestic violence. Women are crying out for help and the calls are ignored and not even logged by the authorities.

There are only 144 spaces in refuges throughout the State. Safe Ireland received more than ten times as many requests for accommodation in the first half of last year alone. Dublin has 31 beds for its population. At least Dublin has beds. We know there are counties that have no beds whatsoever for victims of domestic violence. Austerity era cuts have not been reversed in many sectors and many projects have less money year on year and find it impossible to provide the level of service required by those who rely on them. The domestic violence Bill of my colleague, Deputy Louise O'Reilly, is being discussed in committee as I speak. Domestic violence dominates a person's life. It follows them from home to the workplace. Workers need greater protection. If anything happens following these debates, it is that we need to see action and not just words.

I send my deep condolences and those of the people of Tipperary to the family of Ashling Murphy and to her boyfriend Ryan. The horrific events that happened in Tullamore served as a wake-up call to all of us in this country about how the scourge of gender-based violence continues and the need for adequate measures to address it. This is why it is important that we have been discussing this matter at length in the House. Every one of us has a duty to ensure that no longer will violence against women slip off the agenda until another horrific event acts as the next wake-up call.

The truth is that gender-based violence is happening far more often than official records suggest. Everyday sexism, harassment and misogyny is systematic throughout society. It has been allowed to continue as in large part it has been swept under the carpet over the decades. This has led to a situation in which lives such as Ashling Murphy's are lost and women are subject to everyday limitations in terms of where they feel safe. This is not because women are afraid of their surroundings. It is because they are afraid of violent and abusive men.

Ashling was in a public place in broad daylight when she was attacked and her short promising life was taken from her. Practically every woman has a story to tell about how they have encountered sexism, harassment and misogyny. They are our daughters, sisters and mothers. As legislators we have responsibility on a number of levels to address this inequality in Irish society. Unfortunately this has not been done effectively to date. We need to address this through education, legal sanction, adequate investment in support services and a comprehensive set of wraparound supports for women. Overall, we need a zero tolerance approach to male violence against women and a political attitude to making these changes that does not cut corners or delay rolling them out.

As Women's Aid has pointed out, we need a policy change in education systems to ensure the casual sexism that girls and women experience is unacceptable. We need stronger legislation on street harassment and stronger enforcement of legislation on harassment in the workplace. We must also see an end to the fragmented approach taken towards gender-based violence. This approach is inefficient as it is spread across a number of Departments. Sinn Féin has called for the establishment of a domestic and gender-based violence policy. We have nine counties with no women's refuge. There has been no increase in the capacity of women's refuge centres for the past seven years. It is crazy that we are speaking about this and there has been no increase in the numbers.

I extend my deepest sympathies to Ashling Murphy's family, partner, friends and community. They are all in our thoughts and prayers.

I considered seeking speaking time on this subject because after having listened to the National Women’s Council, Women's Aid and to my female colleagues here I felt it was important that I sent out a clear message that the men stand firmly alongside women when it comes to looking to end gender-based violence and having a zero-tolerance approach.

I am a father with two daughters, a husband with a wonderful wife, a brother with two great sisters, I have family and friends and I am a coach to women. They are not just my daughters, my wife or my sisters but they are people in their own right. Each of them deserves to feel and to be safe. When I go out at night for a walk, I do not worry about, or tell someone, where I am going. I do not skip areas because they are unsafe or unlit. I do not have to carry my keys in my pocket because I do not feel safe so why should my daughters and my wife have to do that?

I do not think that apps or segregated areas want to bear the burden of male violence. I want to say that it is time to teach men, and boys in particular, that they need to stand up and call out sexism when they see it. If they do that I know that I and everyone in this Chamber will stand with them. I say that to every teacher, coach and every man and woman in the country.

I offer my condolences to the family of Ashling Murphy. There are no adequate words of comfort that I can provide except to say that we are thinking of her and her family.

I take this opportunity to remember a young woman called Karen Buckley. Karen was murdered in Scotland in April 2015. She was a postgraduate occupational therapy student from Mourneabbey, Mallow, County Cork. I do not want us to forget about Karen; I want us to remember her as a person of great character and intelligence and as a warm and caring person. Our thoughts go out to Karen’s parents, John and Marian, and her brothers and wider family as we approach the sixth anniversary of her death.

It is important that we remember Karen and Ashling, what their families have lost and what we as a community have lost through their absence. The common thread that binds Karen to Ashling is the great love that their families had for them and they for their families. They were both young women, forging career paths in professions that are by their nature caring ones and that says so much about their individual characters. Today, we remember them and we must ensure that we do not forget them.

If there is one practical measure that people in our profession, the profession of politics, can support, it is the Bystander Intervention programme operated by University College Cork, UCC. I acknowledge the work of Professor Louise Crowley of UCC and the bystander team. This programme aims to educate and empower young people to speak up as a bystander when they notice sexual harassment and violence and demand a zero-tolerance approach. It is not enough that we merely remember these young women. It is our responsibility to ensure that we fund and support programmes such as the bystander intervention programme, which seeks to shift attitudes and the culture of sexual harassment and violence against women that seems so endemic in our society. I am grateful for this opportunity to speak for a few moments and to reiterate again that the families of Ashling Murphy, of Karen Buckley and of so many women are in our thoughts.

Tomorrow will mark two weeks since Aisling Murphy was attacked and murdered by a man in Tullamore. While I welcome the fact that two weeks later we are still having this conversation and discussing the issue in the Dáil, we have to ensure that we continue to discuss this issue and focus on the issue of violence against women and that we do not let the cry for help from women right across Ireland just fade into the distance. I ask that it becomes part of everything that we do from now on.

It never enters my head when I leave the front door and go for a walk to have a key in my clenched fist in the event that someone might attack me. I never think about or consider texting friends or family to tell them where I am going. I do not do these things because I am a man and I feel safe. Women, unfortunately, do not feel safe in those circumstances. As men, it is of great importance that we wake up to that fact and that we begin to have a conversation with ourselves but that we also begin to have a conversation with each other as to how we behave and act towards women. Unless we have that conversation, we cannot make Ireland a safer place for women and girls.

We need to listen to women and I mean listen properly. We cannot just nod our heads and pretend that we understand but we need to listen to what women are saying. Part of that and probably the most important part is education. We need to educate men, young and old, that we have no right to interfere emotionally or physically with women. We need to educate ourselves as men as to how we can become allies to women. I firmly and fundamentally believe that if we can become allies to women, that is the best and most important way that we can ensure that women and girls are safe in this country.

I welcome this opportunity to contribute to this important debate and take this opportunity to express my sympathies to Ashling Murphy’s family, her partner, her friends, the entire school community in Durrow National School and the people of Tullamore and Offaly for their incredible loss. There was a spontaneous groundswell of support and solidarity shown to Aisling’s family in the vigils that took place right across Ireland and further afield in the aftermath of her death. I attended a number of these vigils in County Clare, two of which took place in Ennis and another in Clarecastle. I pay tribute to all of the organisers of these special events and to those who attended them. The brutal killing of Ashling has shocked the entire nation and the fact that this extremely tragic event took place in a popular recreational space and in broad daylight continues to stun the nation.

These shocking events have led to a wider debate about women and their personal safety. For far too long violence and fear have been part and parcel of women’s lives. Women have a right to be safe, full stop, on our streets, in our homes and throughout our communities. Far too often, this is not the case. We all have a role in changing this situation. We as a society must educate our children, especially our young boys, that we need to look out for and protect women and girls.

Violence in any form is not acceptable. We must educate our children in our homes, schools and colleges that there must be respect and equality for everyone, irrespective of gender, sexuality, religious ethos, race or age. I welcome the strong stance of the Minister, Deputy McEntee, on violence against women and her general work in this area. We must all move as a nation towards zero tolerance of domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence.

I understand that the Minister intends to have a new national strategy by this March. The Oireachtas must work together to ensure that this happens, and that the issue of violence against women remains a priority. We owe that to Ashling Murphy and the other women who have died violently in this country.

Like others, I wish to extend our sympathy to the family of Ashling Murphy and to the community in general. It is so sad that we are speaking on this subject this afternoon. Ours is supposed to be a more civilised society as time passes. We expect that we have learned from the past, but I am not so certain. What is emerging now is an increasingly aggressive and violent society. We should be able to understand this from dealing with our constituents when they come to tell us about the things that have happened to them, whether people are of a different religion, sexual orientation, race or whatever the case may be. They are entitled to their rights. Individuals, be they men or women, have their rights. That is being challenged daily now.

Yes, we must go to the schools and impart the knowledge to the upcoming generation that these ways and means are not acceptable and that it is not acceptable to be misogynist, to be violent towards women or to be violent towards anybody. Incidentally, a number of my colleagues have mentioned that the male population can fend for themselves. Unfortunately, I have dealt with a number of cases where that did not happen and where very young teenagers attacked an older, seemingly stronger person, brought the person down and damaged the person for life. There are also those situations.

I believe this a wake-up call. The movies, pornographic videos and so forth that are available are unfortunately influencing our younger generation. It is creating a problem. If a problem was not there, it certainly will be there. We need to address that and try to ensure that people are not influenced by what they see on pornographic videos or any other type of video, for that matter.

I wish to make a final point. I believe we must now address the issue as a nation. We have to call a halt and make it quite clear to all and sundry that what has happened in this and other cases of attacks against women or attacks against anybody is completely unacceptable and must come to a stop. It is said that people can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The wrongdoers can be in the wrong place at the wrong time as well, and this is what we have to create. I congratulate the Minister on the initiatives she is taking in this area. I hope she is successful and that the progress through the House of the legislation she is proposing is rapid.

Gender-based violence is an issue that effects every socioeconomic group in the country. It is an abuse that can manifest itself in many different ways, be it through physical violence or coercive control, and is not reserved for any particular age category. In 20% of detected sexual violence incidents, both the victims and the offenders are under 18 years of age. Unfortunately, we are not witnessing the dying embers of a misguided misogyny of a bygone era. Gender violence is as prevalent now as it ever was. Some of the weapons have changed, such as the use of social media and the sharing of intimate images, but the intent of power and control remain the same. Unfortunately, too often in this country such violence has led to the violent death of women at the hands of men.

I realise that many of the women watching the proceedings today, and I am sure many women in this Chamber, will have been targeted by the everyday sexism, harassment and misogyny that is present in every aspect of Irish life, ranging from the workplace through recreational and social pursuits to, perhaps worst of all, the home. We have an obligation to prevent another generation of women and girls experiencing misogyny and gender-based violence. There are many things that we can do as legislators, but there is so much more that we can do in our everyday lives. For too long we have ignored or downplayed misogynist comments and sexually aggressive language. Zero tolerance cannot just be a call made to the courts. Zero tolerance of misogyny must be the clarion call to all of us, particularly men and boys, as we go about our daily lives. As a society and as legislators we must do more to end this scourge. Recent figures provided by the Garda in Limerick show that in the Limerick Garda division there was a year-on-year increase of 21% in reported domestic abuse incidents.

Ashling Murphy's death united a nation in grief. I send my deepest sympathy to Ashling's family, her friends and her pupils. From Belfast to Limerick, people attended dignified vigils. The message was clear that they have had enough. An average of almost ten women have died violently each year over the past 25 years in this State, which is a truly shocking figure. The onus is now on all Members in this Chamber to do more. In November 2020, Safe Ireland issued a report stating that between March and August of that year, 1,970 women and 411 children each month were receiving help from a domestic violence support service. People have talked about this being a watershed time. Hopefully, on a cross-party basis, we can ensure that by working together we can bring about the seismic change that is needed.

There are many things that must be done as a priority. One that we can do immediately is introduce a provision for domestic violence leave. In November 2019, I and my party leader, Deputy McDonald, introduced the Organisation of Working Time (Domestic Violence Leave) Bill. It has been reintroduced in this Dáil by Deputies McDonald and O’Reilly and was before the committee on children today. I hope it can be progressed as fast as possible. The Bill proposes to provide for paid domestic violence leave days for those experiencing domestic abuse. The intent is to provide the space for those experiencing such abuse to take time out of work to put in place safeguards to protect themselves without the fear of losing pay. This legislation is an important addition to existing workplace rights. The provision of a statutory entitlement to paid leave would be an acknowledgment by legislators of the challenges workers may face when trying to escape an abusive relationship. Sinn Féin’s legislation provides for up to ten days paid domestic violence leave.

If we are to end the epidemic of domestic abuse in Ireland we must have a whole-of-society response that both supports and protects women. Research tells us that abusive partners often do not give a damn about the split between home and work. Stalking, persistent telephone calls and threats in or around the workplace can often occur. Coercive control, now recognised under the Domestic Violence Act 2018, can lead to abusers focusing their efforts on a partner’s workplace for the purpose of ending the employment. Legislators and employers have a responsibility to respond to this avenue of abuse by putting in place the necessary workplace and employment rights and protections for victims.

I extend my sympathy to the family of Ashling Murphy and everyone who loved her, and many did, as well as to the other women who have suffered from domestic or gender-based violence, who have died from it or who have lived intolerable lives because of the impact of violence against them. Like everyone else in the country, I have had time over the past couple of weeks to reflect on the type of society in which we live in Ireland. I have used the time to imagine what kind of country we would live in if women were not afraid of so many things, such as going for walks or runs by ourselves or being out at night by ourselves. If we had an Ireland where women could live with the same freedoms and rights as men in this country, it would be a very different country. We would have vibrant cities, public transport that women could avail of and use, more women in public roles and, probably, more women in politics who were free from the fear of online abuse.

Unfortunately, no woman in this country has ever lived in that type of country. We have never lived in a time in which we have not been afraid and never lived in a time in which we have not tried to make ourselves smaller or invisible as we move within our lives and from work to home. We spend an awful lot of our time and energy monitoring and restricting ourselves in how we behave and what we do. In fact, it has become such a normalised part of our lives that we do not even know that we do it anymore. That is a sad state of affairs and speaks volumes about the type of country in which we live. We have a unique opportunity now to use not only what happened, the lessons we have learned and the reflections we have had over the past couple of weeks but also all the experiences of all the women who have suffered.

There is a responsibility on us to build a much safer country for women, including our daughters and sisters, as well as all those who will come after us. If we create a safer society for women, there will be a safer society for every person in this country.

To do this we will need a transformative cultural change and that will be difficult; it will certainly not easy. It will mean changing how we look at schools because there must be a holistic approach. We must change the culture and curriculum in schools, bringing programmes into sporting institutions, youth services and third-level institutions. It means ensuring casual sexism is tackled in all aspects of society and it means we must have stronger legislation to tackle street harassment, as well as stronger enforcement of measures against harassment in the workplace. This is possible but it will take time. It could take generations for us to enjoy the full effects of such measures.

We can act in the meantime. There has been much talk about what we need to do and there are needs that must be met now. I welcome the work being done by the Minister on the national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. It is really important and I welcome that she is doing that, along with all the other initiatives she has progressed in her term in office. There are elements that could be put in place immediately. I have been reviewing all the issues and I was shocked to learn it can take more than a year for some women to get the counselling services they need if they have experienced sexual violence. I raised this with the Taoiseach last week and he said he would speak to the relevant Ministers. There is a need for an emergency fund for those services so they can provide that very immediate wrap-around support that those women need.

I was struck by an article I read in which somebody from the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said it is so difficult when a woman is brave enough to bare her soul and tell what happened to her when it could be a year before they can get her the help she needs. If the Minister considers that, it would be a very positive step forward. We also heard a great deal about all the different refuges and the lack of supports and funding. Before Christmas I did a fundraiser for the Bray women's refuge in Wicklow. The community was fantastic and raised a lot of money but these services and supports should not rely on the charity of local residents. Will the Minister look at providing immediate funding while she is progressing the strategy? If immediate emergency funding was provided to those services, it would go a long way in helping.

The next speaker is Deputy Costello, who is sharing time with Deputy Alan Farrell. He is not yet in the Chamber.

Deputy Farrell is taking his time but I will try not to go over my allocation. I welcome the opportunity to speak to this important matter. I used some time last week during the Order of Business to raise related matters. I welcome the Minister's commitment to the important elements of developing stand-alone legislation related to stalking and non-fatal strangulation.

Much has been said and I just want to add one or two elements to the discussion. Given the weekend just gone by was the anniversary of the murder of Ms Urantsetseg Tserendorj. Deputy Hourigan and I, along with others, attended a memorial ceremony and spoke with the family afterwards. This highlights the vulnerable position of many migrant women in this country with regard to violence, and they are over-represented in the femicide statistics. There have been warnings that we have been failing to reach vulnerable migrant women so it is important that in the forthcoming strategy and the work we do, we should think about these vulnerable women, who may have difficulties arising from their migration status, language and literacy difficulties. They may have difficulty accessing online services. This applies not just to migrant women but many other women fall into those categories because of poverty or literacy issues. We need to think about all women but especially these vulnerable women, and we must reach out to them.

Last night, I watched the RTÉ documentary on the Kerry babies case and what struck me was the structural violence often inflicted on mná na hÉireann. Anyone watching the show last night would have seen that. The Kerry babies case is not recent news but the structural violence and mindset that informed that case is still very much around. It is something of which we must be conscious and one of the ways to address it is certainly to get more women elected and in here talking about such matters so it is not just me and my male colleagues doing it. We should be able to hear directly from women.

We must ensure the legislation we pass in here does not contribute to structural violence. I looked at this morning's report from Amnesty International on the violence suffered by sex workers and the conditions they face. They are asking that we keep them safe. There is also the question of human trafficking. We have tumbled from tier 1 to tier 2 to now being on the tier 2 watch list, according to the US State Department Trafficking in Persons report for 2021. Again, this is an example of structural violence we are not addressing. As well as a cultural shift and personal responsibility, we, as legislators, have a special responsibility relating to those structural elements to ensure we are not contributing to the problem with the legislation we pass.

I thank Deputy Costello for sharing his time. Since 1996, Women's Aid has reported the murders of 244 women, along with 18 children who have died with their mothers. Of the resolved cases involving those women, 89% of the victims knew their murderer, with the balance being strangers. Thousands of women are in supportive care, such as refuges, on a daily basis because of the nature of the violence perpetrated on them by men. As some of those statistics have shown, the vast majority of the women in question know the men who are violent towards them.

As a society, we require significant changes to prevent this chain of events from continuing from decade to decade. The men in this room and in society are entirely responsible for that change. We have it within our authority to change the way in which we treat the women we are fortunate to have in our lives. We must also ensure that change is passed to the next generation.

The disgusting and horrific murder of Ashling Murphy has struck a chord in society. Like my colleagues who spoke before me, I offer my deepest and heartfelt condolences to her friends and family, her colleagues and those who loved her. I was listening very carefully to Deputy Whitmore, and although I know many colleagues said it previously, as a man the idea of sending a text message to a loved one or family member before getting home or minding what street we take is almost unheard of; it is a daily occurrence for the women in our lives and we must ensure that changes. The onus is on us to change our attitudes and tackle gender-based violence, coercive control and all the other attributes of what is a horrible societal norm.

If we are committed to tackling this matter, we must do so in almost every aspect of society. It should start in education and in every house. As I have said, the misogyny, including derogatory remarks, behaviour and even elements of television programmes we are subjected to, is being normalised when it should not be. We must take the necessary steps to eradicate it.

As others have said, I welcome the initiative from the Minister in the forthcoming publication of the policy for the removal of gender-based violence from our society.

That strategy will be published in the coming months. It is a very important step in the right direction that Members of this House can get their teeth into, suggest improvements to, and try to work towards implementing those policies. It is not just a policy from this House, however, and it is not just a policy from the Government. It must be something of which every man in Irish society is aware. I listened, as we all did, to the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte's recent comments and those of my colleague Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, in her remarks about the othering that went on by certain men in Irish society following the murder of Ashling Murphy, which I am pretty sure all of us were appalled to hear.

I echo statements made by others before me. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has made the access to rent supplement a permanent attribute of the supports offered to women seeking to escape violence against them. We must do more in this House and we must do more in government to ensure the access to supports necessary for those women is much faster.

I extend my condolences to Ashling's family, her partner, her friends, neighbours, colleagues, and her students. I stood with hundreds of people in Dublin West at the Draíocht Theatre when Ashling was remembered. People expressed their horror at the violence she had experienced. We also remembered those women in Dublin West over the years who were murdered by men. They were Miriam O'Donohue, Eugenia Bratis, Anne Colomines, Jean Eagers, Linda Evans, Michaela Davis, Bente Carroll, Anna Finnegan, Marilyn Rynn, and Anastasia Kriégel. We also remembered the many other women throughout Dublin West who are experiencing gender-based violence daily at the hands of men and who are unable to leave due to the lack of services and the lack of places in refuges, with the housing crisis being among the barriers to women leaving violent and abusive relationships. If we are serious about this being a watershed, which so many people have talked about, then we need to get serious about the services that provide pathways to women.

On the day I was asked by a man "What can I do to make a difference?" I told him we need men to stand up and be counted on, to be the ones who call out verbal and physical violence against women, who call out the misogynist jokes, videos, and social media posts, and who stand up and call it out for what it is when men in the pub, in work or in a football stadium are making comments or chanting.

We also need to start with schools and education as early as we possibly can around gender-based violence. We as legislators need to ensure we put in place laws that treat gender-based violence with the seriousness it deserves. I hear constantly in this Chamber that we are going to do this, and I genuinely hope it happens. The Government needs to ensure that when women need a safe place, it is available. Today we heard the shocking statistic that in 2015 there were 142 places in refuges, but in 2022 this has now dropped to 137. This is not acceptable and it needs to change. We need to ensure refuges are resourced and supplied with an adequate level of support in each and every county. I note there are nine counties that do not have a refuge. This also needs to change. We also need to ensure there is appropriate access to step-down and transitional accommodation so that women can move on from their time in refuges, feeling safe and supported to do so. I have worked with families and with women in domestic violence and this was one of the biggest barriers we faced constantly: trying to get a place in a refuge and then trying to get somewhere to live after that when the time in the refuge had finished.

We call on the Government to correct the historical underinvestment in domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services in the State and for genuine political action to improve outcomes for survivors and victims. "Enough is enough" is what we heard throughout the State, from Cork, Belfast, Dublin and Galway. Enough is enough. We all need to stand up against gender-based violence.

The murder of Ashling Murphy was an absolutely unspeakable and horrific act. I can only imagine the grief the family must be feeling. I pass on my deepest sympathies to her family, her friends and her community.

Against that background of an utterly unspeakable senseless murder and tragedy, it has been very heartening to see the amazing response of people throughout the country, coming out on vigils and insisting we must address the reasons our society continues to produce this phenomenon of violence against and murder of women because they are women. Violence of any description needs to be stamped out, but violence against women and the murder of women because they are women is a particularly horrendous thing.

On the vigils, it was brilliant how so many people were saying that of course the wheels of justice will have to grind out an explanation and a punishment in the individual case, but everybody insisted we must also look at ourselves and our society to ask how it is our society continues to produce this phenomenon. I certainly do not have all the answers, and I do not believe any individual does, but there are a few things we can say.

There is an urgency demanded by people in addressing this phenomenon and for taking measures to stamp this out and to change the culture - whatever it is about our society that produces this violence - to get to the root of it quickly and change things. Some of these have already been alluded to. First of all, if a woman is in such a relationship, and given we know most domestic violence takes place among people who know each other and in the family home, it is self-evident that if she has nowhere to go, cannot get out of where she lives, and therefore does not have the ability to escape violence, there is a greater likelihood the violence could end up with tragic consequences. It is a matter of absolute urgency we provide the refuge places.

I am aware that in my area there is no women's refuge in the whole of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. The Government has now committed to it, but it is worth saying that people have been talking about it and campaigning for a refuge in Dún Laoghaire for as long as I have been in representative politics since I was first elected as a councillor, which was 12 or 13 years ago. We still do not have a refuge.

It is not just about refuge spaces, however. It is also about alternative accommodation and the housing situation more generally. I will highlight one issue with Minister, which is that, even now, of the cases I am dealing with this minute, there are women in domestic violence situations who cannot leave those situations because they are joint tenants with their partners and therefore there are bureaucratic obstacles to them getting onto the housing list due to them already being tenants. This means they do not want to leave the house even though they are in a situation of domestic violence. This is crazy. Those barriers must be removed. As long as we have a housing crisis and until we address it, women will be left trapped in these violent or abusive situations.

The other aspect is the question of objective sex education. I do not have all the answers for where this came from, but in Irish society the State for much of its history prevented people from having divorce and getting out of bad relationships. The State also did not want women to have control over their own bodies. We have had the horrific organised institutional abuse of women and children in the Magdalen laundries and the mother and baby homes. Against that background, it is crazy that religious institutions with particular views of women, sexuality and so on, still control 90% of our schools, and have any control whatsoever of the sex education that is taught to our young people.

That issue has to be addressed as a matter of urgency so that people get factual and objective sex education, and we do not have religious bodies that are not giving people the proper education they need running our schools.

I welcome this debate. People have been alarmed by the death of Ashling Murphy. The serious realisation that violence against women is an endemic and serious problem in this country has dawned on us all. For most men, we react with anger, guilt and confusion to this because there is a chilling realisation that at the heart of the violence women are suffering is an attempt by men to abuse power. The statistics are alarming. Ten women in Ireland die violently every year. Sexual assault has increased by 60% in the past five years. Less than one tenth of serious sexual assaults are reported and the detection rate is the lowest of all crimes. Even after two years 80% remain undetected. Other assaults are four times more likely to be detected and more than one in ten women have said in private surveys that they have been victims of the equivalent of rape.

I very much welcome the strategies the Minister, Deputy McEntee, is developing. They are badly needed. We need top-down strategies, including legislation, prosecution and prevention. We need strategies in education. Lord knows, SPHE is badly in need of updating to modernise it so that it can address the challenges of the toxic masculinity that continues to be prevalent in Irish society. We may well need a Cabinet level position to co-ordinate some of this work.

I fear all of these measures risk signalling that the responsibility for this is to fall to a Minister, gardaí or teachers and not to ourselves. If this is to be a watershed, we cannot bundle in a new curriculum for SPHE and assume the responsibility has been dealt with. We have to shift the culture of toxic masculinity that exists which tolerates the sort of abuse that is so widespread. We need to do more. All of us, as men and boys, must become involved in an active response to the culture if it is to change. It cannot be done by a well-intentioned Minister or teacher.

To enable men to make this step forward, we should seriously consider a requirement that every public body develop a justice for women statement. This would mean there would be a mandate for every organisation, initially every public body, to address this and provide a platform where people could discuss and think about this issue. It is encouraging to see universities and other bodies seriously examine the way they develop policies internally. That approach needs to be much more prevalent.

When child safety first statements were introduced, they made a huge difference. They impinged on our consciousness. I agree with others that we need to encourage men to step forward and take a lead in this. It cannot be left to women's organisations to lead. It is the responsibility of men and we need men who are influencers to be part of the dramatic shift in culture if we are to achieve change.

The death of Ashling Murphy has united communities throughout Ireland. It is probably only in recent days that the realisation of her loss has begun to settle in her community and county of Offaly. I offer my sincere condolences to her family. What happened in Tullamore two weeks ago has brought about an incredible sense of national solidarity. We must also be respectful of the fact that many other communities have experienced similar losses and shocks over the years.

However, the tide has changed strongly and our communities have come together to say that enough is enough. We want and need a zero tolerance approach to violence against women. This will require all of us as a society to commit to lasting change. We need to ensure our communities feel safe and that people of all ages can go about their business without fear for their personal safety. We need sufficient supports and services available throughout the country, appropriate legislation, an effective policing response and a cultural shift within our society.

We all know there is no single solution to ending domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Tackling it will require a multifaceted approach, with genuine engagement and partnership. I am confident the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, is leading the way in developing and implementing an all-of-government strategy to prevent and counter violence against women. I look forward to working with colleagues in the House to make sure we can reach that end goal.

I extend my sympathies to the family of Ashling Murphy. Like everybody else in the House this week and last, I am horrified by what happened. It is now important we allow the family privacy to grieve.

There is no place in our society for violence, in particular violence against women. The safety and security of women should be at the core of our society's values. I spoke to some of the women in my life about this issue at length in recent weeks. I spoke to my wife, who told me there are certain parts of Cork city where she does not feel safe and that she carries keys in her fist. I did not know that until this incident triggered these types of discussions. My sister is a regular walker, and I knew she always walked with her friends. I thought that was for social reasons rather than the need to feel safe or due to a fear of being attacked or apprehended on the road or whatever the case may be. When I was younger, I remember we always left a key on the latch or hidden inside a pot in the front garden. My mother always made a point of that and the door in the family home was always open. Sadly, my mother said those days are long gone. Unfortunately, this horrific incident has triggered discussions throughout the country.

The consensus from those discussions was that we need an end to violence against women and the approach must be multifaceted. For example, we need to prioritise a public education campaign to raise awareness of gender-based issues and have a stronger justice approach when women come forward to report attacks. There simply must be tougher sentences.

Sexual harassment needs to be taken far more seriously, especially when people come forward to report it. Many women have expressed concerns about coming forward, about the system for reporting, and the action, if any, that will be taken. Many felt it was part and parcel of everyday life. This narrative is very damaging and must change. I would like to note the work Senators Lisa Chambers and Fiona O'Loughlin have done on their Bill in the Seanad dealing with the issue of stalking. They have worked with victims such as Eve McDowell and Una Ring.

Many women feel they must regulate their behaviour rather than society addressing the problem. We must ensure we have a criminal justice system that works for victims at every stage of their journey. We need to take practical steps in our local authorities to ensure public spaces are well lit, monitored and conducive to being an exercise amenity.

The Department of Justice is leading the development across Government of the third national strategy to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. I commend the Minister on her action to date regarding this. She is putting a lot of work into it. In her reply to the debate she might confirm whether it is still the intention that the finalised strategy will be brought to the Government in March.