'Epidemic' of violence against women and girls Stormont MLAs told as Ashling Murphy vigil held

Deputy First Minister Michelle ONeill, First Minister Paul Givan and DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson take part in a silent vigil on the steps of Parliament Buildings, Stormont, for Ashling Murphy. Credit: PA

Ashling Murphy has been remembered at Stormont as politicians held a vigil in front of Parliament Buildings before business resumed following the Christmas break.

Politicians from the main parties came together to remember the Co Offaly teacher who was murdered last week. The 23-year-old was attacked while out for an afternoon run along the banks of the Grand Canal in Tullamore.

First Minister Paul Givan, deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood were among those in attendance.

They gathered in front of a portrait of Ms Murphy and a bunch of flowers.

Michelle O'Neill said: "Domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is an epidemic.”

Ashling Murphy Credit: Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann/PA

She said: “Last Monday, I joined Executive colleagues in asking people for their views on a new strategy to end violence against women and girls, and by Wednesday another woman on this island had been brutally murdered.

“Ashling Murphy was 23, she was attacked and killed while out for a run. There are simply no words to convey the cruelty and injustice at what happened to Ashling and our hearts go out to her family and to all who loved her.

“Regretfully the truth is violence against women and girls, the threat of violence against women and girls, the fear of violence against women and girls is all too common.

“If we are to break the cycle of male violence against women we need to develop an enforcable, zero-tolerance approach towards mysogyny and sexism. That’s to end all violence against all women in all of its forms.”

Michelle O'Neill said anger across Ireland at the murder of Ashling Murphy must "now turn into determined action".

"Together we must stop violence against women and girls," she added.

"Together we must say enough is enough; as we also remember many of the women, with Ashling, who were killed on this island in during the pandemic years."

She then read a list of the names of 23 murdered women.

First Minister Paul Givan said men needed to step up to challenge abusive behaviour towards women and girls.

“We’re connecting our own stories and our own families to this tragedy,” he said.

“As a father of three daughters I know that last night when I was in Lisburn and we held a vigil, I was thinking about them.

“I was thinking about the type of society that they’re growing up in and when they get to that age, they should feel safe, they should be respected, they should not be objectified, they should not have to suffer the kind of poor, bad behaviour that often is directed at women and girls and we all must take that personal responsibility to change our society and call out for the behaviour being what it is when we witness it.

“That’s why we’re taking forward the deputy first minister and I as a priority, the strategy around ending violence against women and girls. We have to shape government policies to put an end to this because too many people have suffered, too many people have lost their lives and unless we collectively make that change and give that targeted effort, we’re going to come back to this and we shouldn’t.”

He added: “Ashling gave so much for someone has been killed at 23, she’d already gave so much to our community and our society, and had so much more to give and so we show our support, we grieve with their families and whether it’s in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, we’ve all came together as one community and we share in that grief and we collectively show our support.”

Ms Murphy’s death has sparked widespread anger with thousands taking to social media to highlight how she was only "going for a run" before she was attacked. 

Thousands of people also turned out for vigils across Ireland at the weekend.

A vigil for Ashling Murphy held in Belfast at the weekend.

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon told MLAs that the murder of Ashling Murphy represented an attack on all women.

She said: "In this modern world, the fact that women are not safe is terrifying.

"We must, as political leaders here across these islands, band together to end this violence.

"As a mother my heart is breaking for Ashling Murphy's family.

"What makes this murder so frightening is the casual violence in broad daylight in an area busy with people out for exercise.

"This could have been any woman. So it represents an attack on every woman. If a young girl can't go for a jog in the middle of the day in an area surrounded by people, then where can women feel safe?"

An Garda Síochána continues to investigate Ms Murphy’s murder.

Gardaí said “significant progress has been made in the investigation”, with detectives asking specifically for information on a mountain bike with distinctive yellow/green front forks.

Image of Falcon Storm mountain bike released by police