Cllr Eileen Lynch.

Awareness campaign supported

“Words and platitudes aren’t enough anymore.”

Those were the words of Cllr Eileen Lynch this week as she called on Cork County Council to hold a cross county awareness campaign on gender violence.

The Fine Gael Councillor said her she was raising the motion following the recent death of Ashling Murphy in Tullamore.

During Monday’s Cork County Council meeting she as well as many others spoke passionately about how things had to change.

She said: “As we’ve all seen, Aisling’s death has lead to an national outpouring of sympathy and fear. There’s been vigils and memorials nationwide and I believe as councillors it’s our duty to what we can to open the dialogue around gender-based violence and abuse towards women. We need to take action. The way I see it is that words and platitudes aren’t enough anymore.”

Cllr Lynch continued: “Both men and women experience gender-based violence but the majority of victims are women and girls. Over the past 18 months, the Covid-19 environment has seen a massive increase in gender-based abuse and in my role as a councillor, I have dealt with many women who have been victims of abuse. We never truly know what goes on behind closed door and I think it’s incumbent of us, as public reps, to highlight this issue.”

Cllr Lynch also spoke about the phrase ‘it’s not all men’: “Of course it’s not, but it is all women. All women, I think, have crossed the road to avoid a stranger, walked to their car with keys in their hands, they’ve not gone somewhere because it’s not safe. Personally, as a young woman, I am sick of it. I’m sick of it not being safe to do something because I’m a woman and I’m sick of being on the receiving end of commentary that male counterparts just don’t receive. We can’t keep accepting gender-based abuse and we need to call it out.”

Responding to Cllr Lynch’s motion, Patricia Liddy Director of Service Corporate Services, said: “The matter under debate is one of a national nature as has been evidenced most recently through the national conversation and extensive media coverage on this issue. It is a matter that requires a ‘whole of government’ approach and crosses many aspects of the business of many state agencies including but not limited to the education, health, policing, justice, and other sectors.”

She added: “Government has indicated that a national strategy on the matter is expected and that the publication of such a strategy is imminent. Cork County Council should await the publication by Government of that strategy. It would be appropriate for Council, perhaps through consideration of this motion, to confirm its full support to playing its part in whatever role national government sees for local government in a comprehensive national strategy.”

Cllr Lynch said while she noted the response and welcomed the national work, she still believed as councillors that their work was on the ground for the people and they can work to put measures in place to eradicate this type of behaviour in their communities and in society.

What others said

The Mayor of Cork Cllr Gillian Coughlan, who seconded Cllr Lynch’s motion, agreed that work can be done by the council alongside work being carries nationally.

“While I appreciate the Director of Service’s response, I would like to us pre-empting the national campaign.”

Similarly, Fine Gael Cllr Susan McCarthy said: “Whatever campaign is being run nationally, it would do us no harm to mount a campaign as Cllr Lynch proposes.”

Green Party Cllr Liam Quaide said one reality that has been discussed since Ashling's death is the degree to which women have to be vigilant on a regular basis.

He added: “We men, in general, have very limited sense of the fear and sense of vulnerability that this can involve from our own experience. This fear can be a background sensation as a woman anticipates a short walk along an empty street to a taxi rank at night, or an intense feeling of threat when faced with an assailant. The amount of women who have experienced violence or harassment, or both, at some stage in their lives is staggering.”

“While men are not immune to violence, we are generally far less vulnerable to the kinds of abuse, intimidation, harassment and violence that women experience. I also believe that female public reps experience a more vicious form of personal abuse, and do so more frequently, than us male public reps.”

Cllr Quaide added: “I think men need to take a lead in addressing the kinds of degrading attitudes towards women that can take root from an early age. We need to make sexism in all forms unacceptable and to be role models to other men and boys. We need to work with women to make our society more equal and more safe.”

Social Democrats Cllr Ross O’Connell said the awareness campaign would show councillors “deeply care about the issue”.

Fianna Fáil Cllr Gearóid Murphy said: “Briefly to address the ‘not all men’…it is indeed not all men but unfortunately it is a sub-culture of men. The people best placed to tackle this sub-culture of misogyny are men themselves. I’m not going to pretend that it’s always easy because it’s not. It’s easiest to do nothing but as men it’s important when we are in male spaces that we make it clear we don’t agree with that misogynistic comment or joke.

“I want to reiterate that it is not easy, most of us are inclined to just want a quiet life and I’d be lying myself if I said I had always done the right thing but I have to try harder, we all have to try harder.”

His party mate Cllr Gobnait Moynihan said she was angry and sick about it: “What can’t do, the list goes on. We shouldn’t go out at night on our own, we shouldn’t wear certain clothes. This list is endless of things we can’t do. I’m a runner and I run on a daily basis. When am I meant to run? I’m fed up and really glad we are having this debate.”