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Demagoguing Ashling Murphy’s murder to blame “men” is deeply wrong.

For most of yesterday, the name of the person who was wrongly suspected of carrying out the unprovoked and brutal murder of Ashling Murphy was not made public by the Gardai. All that we knew is that he was male, in his forties, originally from Romania, and was known to Gardai. And, of course, that he stood accused of taking the life of a woman he did not know, in brutal fashion, in broad daylight, ending her life, and devastating the lives of her family, friends, and students. Now, a day later, we know that he is innocent. And that the real murderer – man, or woman, Irish person, or foreigner – remains at large.

Yesterday, Irish social media, and indeed traditional media went a little bit insane. To read much of the coverage, one might think that Ashling Murphy was murdered by every man in the country. That Ashling Murphy was killed not by a murderer, but by “misogyny”. RTE’s Philip Boucher Hayes – less a reporter than a campaigner, these days – led the charge:

This widespread media idea that men in general are the problem is not new. It is, not coincidentally, the same idea that underpinned the Carlow School fiasco: That all men are suspect, that all women are victims of men, and that men, in general, in these situations, must not be given even an inch of ground on which to make a defence of themselves.

But Ashling Murphy was not killed by “men”, or “misogyny”, or a culture, or a system, or any other political hobby horse. She was killed by a person. The guilt is the killer’s alone. It is not shared. Ashling Murphy was not killed by the patriarchy, or the immigration system, or failings by the gardai, or the judicial system, or a lack of investment in mental health services, or whatever a person’s hobby horse might be. That is not to say that any of those things are not problems in and of themselves, but it is to say that in this instance, one person alone is to blame. To focus on any of those things does one thing and one only: It takes blame from her killer, and places that blame somewhere else.

This was an act of pure, raw, cruelty and evil. Not only against Ms. Murphy, but against all those who loved her, and have had their hearts ripped open. It follows, inescapably, that the perpetrator is a person of uncommon evil. There are many bad people in Ireland, and many with defective characters. There are vanishingly few who would ever do anything like this. To pretend otherwise, again, is to take some of the responsibility that this person bears, and try to spread it around to others, who are blameless.

There are those who will say that this is simplistic: That nobody is born evil, and that a system makes them so. That the killer was cultured to hate women – to hate Ashling, and what she represented to him. Or that he was failed by a lack of mental health services. Or that he should never have been free, or in the country, to begin with. None of those arguments, superficially appealing though they are, survive first contact with scrutiny. The country is full of men – and women – who have been failed by one system, or another. There are many criminals under deportation orders. There are countless people who suffer at the hands of our mental health services, or lack of them. None of them, not one, committed this crime.

We should talk here, about Ashling Murphy. She was a talented musician, and a popular teacher. By all accounts a good friend, and a warm, and kind, and decent, and diligent person. She was a beloved daughter. Just a few weeks ago, we can fairly surmise, she was laughing and bringing joy to her family over Christmas. Her family will have been proud of her, and loved her, and the very thought of the pain which they must now bear will send shivers down the spine of every normal person – whatever their gender, or nationality. The important thing here is that we are united in our anger, and sympathy, and focused in our outrage.

All of that said, there are things that are also true: Many women will point out, accurately, that almost all violence against women is committed by men. Indeed, almost all violence, full stop, is committed by men. Most of it, by the way, against men: 89% of murder victims in Ireland are men, and the vast majority of those convicted are men. It is a statement of fact that men have a higher propensity to violent crime, and sexual crime, according to all available figures, than women do. It is, then, to some extent understandable that people cry out for something to be done about this.

But the numbers are tiny: There were 22 murders in Ireland, last year. Even if every single murder was committed by a man, and by different men, then the percentage of men in Ireland who committed murder in a single year was 0.0000090%. There were 168 prosecutions for rape in 2020. Even multiplying that figure by ten, to account for unprosecuted rapes, you get a figure for male rapists in Ireland of 0.000691% of the male population in a single year. Saying that men commit most of these crimes is true, but it also transfers responsibility for a tiny minority of evil and twisted people onto an overwhelming majority of decent, normal, men.

None of this is to discount the fears of women. Your author is not a woman. It does not occur to me to worry about footsteps behind me on a street, or to worry about being drugged and raped at a social event, or to text a friend my location or the details of a person I do not know who I might be about to meet for the first time. I have never had cause to carry a personal alarm, or pepper spray, or learn what to say to keep an angry man calm. What we can all do, as men, is to appreciate that those fears are real, and to behave around women in a way that addresses, rather than exacerbates, those fears.

That is a valuable and useful conversation. What is not valuable, or useful, is to suggest that men as a group are somehow culpable for the actions of an evil man. It is no more valuable to suggest that than to suggest that Romanians are responsible for the actions of a single Romanian, or that dog owners are collectively responsible for a dog that gets loose and kills sheep. We can, ultimately, be responsible for nobody aside from ourselves. We can do the right thing as individuals, nothing more.

And if we are going to talk about cultural reasons and problems, why, then, is pornography off the table? After all, it is odd to live in a society where on the one hand, consent and respect for women and their boundaries is endlessly preached at the same time as young people increasingly rely on pornograpy for a source of sexual entertainment and gratification. Just a few clicks from this page, if you are so minded, any adult or child in Ireland can find video footage of women being degraded in group sex scenes, bukkake scenes, and much more besides. The idea that the widespread availability of the most depraved sexual acts as entertainment has no impact at all on expectations of women, or the sense of entitlement of men, is objectively absurd and wilfully naive. But we do not speak of it. In any conversation about the threat to women, pornography, and the expectations it fosters amongst a minority of men, should be front and centre. It matters little that most people seem able to view it without becoming monsters: Most people drink without consequence too, and we have just taken action to make alcohol more expensive nonetheless.

Again though, even that does not take responsibility away from the perpetrator. This was a despicable, evil, senseless murder. It was committed by one person. The responsibility is his alone. Turning on each other, and turning this into a culture war bunfight, will help precisely nobody. We should, however, all agree on one thing: That the person who committed this act, if and when they are convicted of it, should never see the light of the sun again. Toss him into the darkest cell the country has, and leave him there, for the rest of his days.

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