As the country still attempts to come to terms with the shocking killing of primary school teacher Ashling Murphy in Tullamore, Current Affairs Editor Conor Daly looks at how this event has brought the country together and how it could change our society going forward.
“She was going for a run”. This is the poignant phrase that has been circulating around social media in the days and weeks since the fatal attack of a 23 year old woman on Wednesday the 12th of January in county Offaly. This is unfortunately far from the first killing of its kind in this country, and sadly, it will more than likely not be the last. There is, however, a sense that the public reaction to the event, both at home and abroad, could prove to be a watershed moment in terms of Ireland’s relationship with gender based violence. Indeed the phrase “watershed moment” has also been circulating around the country since the news of this incident broke. It was a point of discussion on The Late Late Show between host Ryan Tubridy and Taoiseach Micheál Martin, with the latter commenting on how the fallout from the attack has forced men in particular to think about how women are treated in this country. He made similar comments in the Dáil as he called for change to be made to misogynistic attitudes in this country. As the long standing adage goes, “the first step in solving any problem is recognising that there is one”.
The details of the story just got worse the more they were released. 23 years old. Recently graduated. First class primary school teacher. Went for a run in broad daylight.
Ashling Murphy was simply going about her day, most likely planning to run at the time she did so it would still be bright out. Additionally, this attack was said to be completely random. People have really struggled to grapple with this idea, that someone can do absolutely nothing wrong and have their life taken from them for no reason.
The public outcry has been strongly felt, with women, but also men, utterly at a loss as to what more has to be done in order to prevent such an atrocity from happening again. The onus is being put on men in this country, and rightly so, because the frustration being felt by women is largely down to how many precautionary measures are already being taken by women and girls around this country to keep themselves safe when they leave their houses. The fact that this incident happened in broad daylight has only added to this.
The ripple effect of this tragedy has been felt around the globe, with the strength of Ireland’s diaspora coming to the fore under the most difficult of circumstances. There were vigils held in London, New York and Dubai among other places. This is of course in addition to the numerous tributes and vigils held all around Ireland in memory of this young woman, including at the Amphitheatre here in UCC on Monday 17th January. There have also been multiple gyms and combat sports clubs offering free self defense classes to women who want, or feel the need, to learn basic self defense skills. If there are any positives to be taken from this horrible situation, it is most definitely the manner in which the people of Ireland have come together to mourn the loss of, in theory, a total stranger.
But in reality, the time that has elapsed since the news initially broke has proven that she wasn’t a total stranger, far from it. In a time of national and international division, the age-old value of community has shone through in what is proving to be perhaps the only glimmer of hope in this period of national grief. This value is one that binds us together, particularly in difficult moments, and reminds us that we are not as isolated as we think we are. The other side of this story is how such a heinous and unnecessary act has united people in this country. If we are to move forward and learn any lessons from this event, we have to hold on to the hope that things can improve, they simply must.
Men are realising that they need to play a bigger role than they currently do, that they need to do more to make women feel safe in this country. Students here in UCC have already taken steps to do this, with an increase reported in enrolment for the Bystander Intervention Programme, which teaches students how to become active bystanders and eradicate harmful behaviors that promote gender based violence. This issue is not one that has a single quick fix that will solve everything. It will take a concerted effort from men in particular to want to make a change, recognising that altering their behavior on an individual level can have more of an impact than they realise. The reaction of UCC students is a very promising first step and shows both a recognition of the need for change and also the desire to be part of said change.
With all the public attention that this despicable event has garnered, one can only hope that at the very least, the death of Ashling Murphy can prove to be a catalyst for changing the way we treat women in this country and that we will strive to be better for the sake of the 244 women who have died violently in this country since 1996. If that statistic is not a motivator for significant change, nothing ever will be.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.