Ashling Murphy, a 23 year-old teacher, was murdered on a canal path in an Irish town in January 2022. She was stabbed 11 times by Jozef Puska while walking in Tullamore in broad daylight, on a walkway named “Fiona’s Way” after Fiona Pender, a pregnant woman from the area who disappeared in 1996. Last week Puska was sentenced to life in prison for her murder. Murphy’s death caused national outrage, led to hundreds of vigils across the UK and Ireland, and prompted calls for violence against women to be addressed. The Times called it Ireland’s “Sarah Everard moment” – now shorthand for a moment of reckoning in tackling femicide.
At the time of Murphy’s murder, Ireland’s Justice Minister Helen McEntee said: “In Ashling, we see our sisters, our daughters and our mothers… and as women we see ourselves and feel an anger and fear that is all too familiar.”
That anger and fear inspired dozens of vigils for Murphy across the UK and Ireland – some of which brought hostile reactions. A “Men’s Rosary” group with a loud PA system was accused of attempting to drown out a vigil for Murphy in Limerick city. An online space was disrupted too; one vigil was hijacked by a man who later appeared to masturbate on camera.
In a victim impact statement, Ashling’s older sister Amy spoke of how her death has been described as “a watershed moment demanding an end to violence against women in Ireland”. But she added that these were “titles she did not ask for – titles we wish on no daughter, sister or partner.”
What has changed? McEntee promised a zero-tolerance strategy to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.
The five-year strategy includes a €363 million investment in refuge spaces and support services for victims. School curriculums will also include content on consent, coercive control and domestic violence. By the end of next year the Irish government aims to establish a statutory agency for domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence.
The maximum sentence for assault causing harm — a common domestic abuse offence — will be doubled from five to 10 years. Stalking and non-fatal strangulation have also been made standalone offences.
Some 264 women in Ireland have died violently between 1996 and November 2023, according to Women’s Aid Femicide Watch. Of these, 19 were after Murphy’s murder.
“Pure evil” Puska raised suspicions when he was admitted to a Dublin hospital with stab wounds the day after the killing. He later confessed, only to claim he had no recollection of the incident a few days later. But there was still enough evidence to convict him; his DNA was found under Murphy’s fingernails, and an eyewitness said they saw him on top of Murphy in a hedgerow on the day of her death.
Murphy’s devastated partner, Ryan Casey, called her killer “the epitome of pure evil”. He told Puska: “When your day of reckoning comes, may you be in hell a whole half hour before God even knows you are dead.”