Politicians in Northern Ireland have paid solemn tribute to murdered primary school teacher Ashling Murphy.
Assembly members from across the political spectrum gathered outside Parliament Buildings at Stormont to observe a silence in memory of the murdered Co Offaly woman.
A large framed picture of the talented 23-year-old musician was placed in front of the building, with a large bouquet of flowers placed on the ground beneath.
The vigil took place shortly before the murder was raised at the start of Assembly business, with MLAs highlighting the need for comprehensive action to tackle violence against women.
Stormont deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill told the chamber that domestic, sexual and gender-based violence had reached epidemic levels.
The Sinn Fein MLA read out the names of women who have been killed on the island of Ireland during the pandemic.
“There are simply no words to convey the cruelty and injustice of what happened to Ashling, nor the heartbreak and sorrow of her loss,” she said.
“Our hearts go out to her family and 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.
“Domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is an epidemic.”
Ms O’Neill said there must be a zero-tolerance approach towards misogyny and sexism.
“Since Ashling’s murder, countless women and girls across this island – myself included – will have been reflecting on our own safety as we go about our daily lives,” she added.
“Sadly, Ashling’s murder is not an isolated incident. But it must be a watershed moment.
“How often do we hear that we are ‘lucky’ we weren’t attacked? Because we had dared to walk a particular route, or be out at a certain time.
“Well, we aren’t ‘lucky’. We are angry.
“Because no woman or girl should ever have to face such disgusting attitudes, or the threat of abuse that destroys lives.”
First Minister Paul Givan, who was joined by his DUP party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson at the vigil, said people in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland had come together as one community to share in grief over the murder of Ms Murphy.
“All of us have come together in the past number of days to show our revulsion for what has happened to Ashling Murphy and to stand in support of Ashling and her family,” he said.
“We are struck by the last words Ashling said to her mum, ‘Mam, I love you’, before she left.
“As a father of three daughters I know 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 are growing up in, and when they get to that age they should feel safe, they be respected, they should not be objectified.
“They should not have to suffer the kind of bad behaviour which often is directed at women and girls.
“We all must take personal responsibility to change our society.
“Men need to step up and challenge this type of behaviour.”
SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon, who was joined by SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood at the vigil, said the murder represented an attack on all women.
“In this modern world, the fact that women are not safe is terrifying,” she told the Assembly.
“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?”
A very moving vigil today at Stormont in memory of Ashling Murphy. As politicians, we must put stricter laws in place to protect women & girls, but all men in society must step up to stop violence against women from taking place at all. Misogyny does kill.
— Colum Eastwood (@columeastwood) January 17, 2022
Speaking outside after the vigil, Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie said there was a need for societal change.
“It was the most terrible murder,” he said.
“Sadly, this is all too often in our society today that our women and young girls no longer feel safe and there’s a real danger out there and we must address this real danger.
“It’s wonderful to see the outpouring of grief in regards to this terrible murder but that’s not good enough. It’s simply not good enough that a young woman can go out jogging in the middle of the day and be murdered in such a brutal way and that’s happening more and more. Maybe it doesn’t end up in a murder, but it’s certainly ending up in other crimes against women and young girls.
“We need to address this, society needs to address this, individuals need to address this and we don’t need to have more vigils.
“In fact, we need to have less vigils because if we have less vigils then there’s less women being murdered in our society and that’s what we need to address.”
Fielding Assembly questions later in the day, Justice minister and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long told MLAs a cross departmental approach was needed to protect women and girls in Northern Ireland.
“I think, like everyone in this chamber, I was both sickened and horrified by the murder of Ashling Murphy, and I am thinking of those who loved her at this awful time,” she said.
“I am also thinking of the shockingly high number of women who have been murdered over the last 12 months in Northern Ireland, the latest being just before Christmas.
“It should be clear to us that urgent and radical action is required. I am determined to do everything I can as Justice Minister, but it cannot only be for justice, we must move upstream and do the preventative work that is required to stop women becoming victims of this abuse.”