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A month on, those exploiting Ashling Murphy’s terrible murder need to be challenged 

Ashling Murphy was laid to rest by her loving and grief stricken family in Tullamore a month ago. Her funeral mass was held at St Brigid’s Church, Mountbolus, where her beautiful life was remembered and where her community gathered to wrap their arms around Ashling’s grief-stricken family. 

Fr Michael Meade said they gathered “where Ashling and her family joined in prayer with her larger family”.  “Here her journey in faith began with baptism, here and at home in Cully that faith blossomed into a life of love, a life of hope, a life of trust,” he said.

At Ashling’s graveside , her boyfriend Ryan said that she was soulmate. “She is the greatest love of my life. I will cherish the last five years we spent together my entire life. I hope that someday, God willing, we can be reunited once more and continue the great plans we had made for each other.”

For Ashling’s family and those who loved her most, the loss and grief will still be overwhelming. The issues her killing brought to the fore should not be allowed to simply fade away.

But at this remove, its important to look back at the downright cynical attempts to use her appalling murder to push their own agendas.

I don’t know what Ashling or her family thought about any of the contentious issues which seem to occupy every waking moment of the liberal left in Ireland, such as a Catholic ethos in schools, or seeking ever-more explicit sex-education, or more liberal abortion laws – and, like most people who understand common decency, I have no intention of trying to find out.

But that didn’t prevent politicians or journalists or campaigners using Ashling’s murder to argue for support for their own particular objectives.

So instead of focusing on real and tangible steps such as tougher sentencing, the killing of a young woman in Tullamore was bizarrely – but repeatedly – used to attack Catholic schools.

Brid Smith TD, for example, talked about the shocking figures on violence against women, and then claimed that dealing with the problem meant removing the right of schools to have a religious ethos. She called for support for her sex education bill which sought to strip the right to be guided by an ethos from schools because the Church was “incapable of delivering a non-ethos based education which is absolutely required.”

Plenty of people want the Catholic church removed from schools – though, oddly enough, when parents are actually asked to do something about this, most don’t seem to think it’s much of an issue .

Smith, however, wants Catholic ethos removed from schools because she wants her values imposed on your children instead: abortion as something to be celebrated, the unscientific nonsense that there’s no such thing as biological sex, and whatever other crackpot left-wing nonsense has been dreamt up this week.

She is ferociously anti-Catholic, though she would say she is just ferociously against the Church, having called for it to be confined  to the dustbins of history. And she is entitled to that view.

But it was deeply cynical, in my opinion, to use Ashling Murphy’s death to attack religious ethos and portray it as part of the problem.

Not that Smith was alone in seeming to take advantage of a tragedy.

Colm O’Connor of Educate Together said that to stop the brutal killing of young women in Ireland we needed “to teach RSE comprehensively and in a way that is free from religious influence”.

It’s an assertion that is breathtaking in its arrogance and ignores what we actually know about the murder in Tullamore. It seems to suggest that religious influence makes men more likely to brutally murder young women.

Writing in the Irish Examiner, he went on to rattle off the usual bucket list of issues which must become a priority in teaching school children, including of course, abortion. No RSE programme is ever value-free so what O’Connor and others actually want is access to your children to impose their value system. The Bishops have nothing on these people when it comes to forthright evangelisation.

He took special offence at a programme for Catholic schools that, horror of horrors, “encouraged junior infants students to say the ‘Angel of God’ prayer”. It would have been an entirely idiotic objection if it didn’t smack of anti-Catholic prejudice.

O’Connor, like most commentators, also conveniently ignores the obvious.

We don’t know anything about Ashling Murphy’s alleged killer except that he is a 31 year-old Slovakian man who lived in Offaly and was in receipt of a disability allowance.

He almost certainly didn’t go to an Irish school – Catholic or otherwise.

Yet O’Connor, at a time when the nation was convulsed by upset and anger, asserts that Catholic schools are part of the problem, and removing a Catholic ethos be key to what must be done to “stop this happening again”.

Again, the implication is obvious – and it is appalling. Are we to believe that Catholics – people who share the same ethos as the church – are more likely to kill or harm women? O’Connor wouldn’t dare to hint at such an assertion in regard to any other religion.

In fact, studies have shown that crime, and in particular violent crime, decreased as greater numbers of people were religiously active in a community.

But facts aren’t important to those exploiting a tragedy to push their own agenda.

There were many more examples of almost casual accusations, not just against all men, but against Catholics in the wake of Ashling Murphy’s murder.

This Martyn Turner cartoon published in the Irish Times lumped in religion with “racism, misogyny, and fascism” at the time of the tragedy in Tullamore. It’s an idiotic, ill-informed, and woefully bigoted inclusion.

The same paper quoted Elaine Healy Byrnes, an NUI Galway academic, who implied that a Catholic ethos clashed with teaching pupils about consent and respect. That’s nonsense. Catholic social teaching on human dignity is based around the principle of respect. It raises up both women and men, unlike much of what passes for commentary in popular culture.

Amongst the real issues that need examining after Ashling Murphy’s terrible death are violent crime, attitudes to women being shaped by violent pornography and popular culture, and the role of mental health disorders in violence.

Instead, there was this deeply cynical move to use a brutal and senseless killing to attack Catholic values. It was a new low in the exploitation of a tragedy.

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