ABC Council is to consider a notice of motion calling for more measures to address the threat of violence against women – as well as calling for more funding to improve services available to victims of domestic violence.
The motion comes after two murders of young women in Lurgan.
Natalie McNally, who was 15 weeks pregnant, was killed just before Christmas, while the seventh anniversary is approaching of the murder of dental nurse Laura Marshall.
Thirty-two-year-old Natalie, who was 15 weeks pregnant with a baby boy, named Dean by her family, was strangled and stabbed to death at her home at Silverwood Green. Her partner, Stephen McCullagh, of Woodland Gardens in Lisburn, in due to go on trial charged with her murder.
Natalie McNally murder: Stephen McCullagh trial ‘some months away’, court told
Thirty-one-year-old Laura Marshall was found dead in her apartment at Victoria Street in Lurgan.
She was murdered some time between March 31 and April 3, 2016, her body discovered in the bath, with police saying there was evidence of a “violent struggle”.
The SDLP is preparing to bring a notice of motion to the monthly meeting of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council tonight (Monday).
In it, they express condolences to the families of both Natalie and Laura and call for a series of measures which they feel should be introduced, including training for council officers.
The motion, brought by Councillor Declan McAlinden and seconded by Councillor Grainne O’Neill, asks that the council notes “with sadness” the two Lurgan murders, “adding to the hundreds of women across these islands who have lost their lives in gender related attacks where a man has been convicted or charged as the perpetrator”.
The motion adds: “The council sends its sympathies to their families and loved ones and expresses its utmost
horror that these women were so brutally taken from them.
“The council is deeply concerned at the rising numbers of violent acts perpetrated against women and is committed to doing everything in its power to make this borough more safe, fair and equal for all women.
“The council recognises and welcomes the increased legislative framework to better protect women and girls.“
The motion then seeks support for four very specific actions.
It asks that councillors approve writing to the Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris, to ask that “any new Executive
invest in improving service provision for victims of domestic violence“.
It requests that the council work with voluntary organisations, such as Women’s Aid, to “promote the wider campaign to address violent acts against women“.
The motion also asks that council ensures it has an “up-to-date anti-harassment policy in place for all council facilities and council run events”, and adds that: “This council believes that this should set the precedent for all hospitality venues, workplaces and events within the borough to do the same.”
Finally, the motion seeks a commitment that “elected representatives and officers will engage in training on the realities facing victims of sexual harassment and gender based violence”.
Councillor McAlinden, speaking ahead of the motion, said: “The scourge of violence against women and girls is sadly far too prevalent in our society and if we’re ever going to eradicate it then we all must play our part by supporting women and ensuring that victims know help is out there.
“The murders of Natalie McNally and Alesia Nazarova have caused huge sadness in our community, left their families broken and highlighted the dangers that women face each and every day simply going about their lives.
“The unsolved murder of Laura Marshall almost seven years ago has also left an indelible mark on this area.
“The current situation will only improve if we challenge attitudes and send a clear message that violence against women and girls will not be tolerated. The lead on that has to come from Stormont and I want to see a restored Executive and Assembly in place to invest in support for victims.
“I also believe that council has an important role to play in spreading awareness and ensuring that we have policies in place to make sure that we do everything we can to protect people, while informing staff and representatives about the challenges victims face.”
Councillor O’Neill added: “No woman should have to live in fear while simply going about their lives. We should be able to feel safe in our homes, at work or school, or on a night out with our friends.
“Several high-profile recent incidents have proved that this isn’t the case and that should be a wake-up call to people right across our society about how much work we have to do to tackle this issue.
“I believe every councillor should back tonight’s motion to show people that this council stands fully behind women and girls and will do everything in our power to support victims and educate people about these issues.
“This is not an issue that is going to be solved overnight, it will require long-term societal change, but unless we act now we will see more women forced to live in fear, while others lose their lives at the hands of abusers.”
The motion is one of three due to debated when ABC Council sits this evening.