Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council is to take steps to make the borough more “safe, fair and equal for all women”.
A number of measures attempting to do so were put forward in a motion brought to council’s monthly meeting on Monday, by Councillor Declan McAlinden.
The SDLP representative brought his motion to council in the wake of the shocking murders of Alesia Nazarova and Natalie McNally and ahead of the seventh anniversary of the murder of Laura Marshall.
His motion called on council to send its sympathies to the families of the women, express its concern “at the rising number of violent acts perpetrated against women” and welcome the “increased legislative framework to better protect women and girls”.
To that end, the motion called on council to: “Write to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to ask that any new Executive invest in improving service provision for victims of domestic abuse;
“Work with voluntary organisations e.g Women’s Aid to promote the wider campaign to address violent acts against women;
“Ensure it has an up-to-date anti-harassment policy in place for all council facilities and council run events. This council believes this should set the precedent for all hospitality venues, workplaces and events within the borough to do the same and;
“Issue a commitment that elected representatives and officers will engage in training on the realities facing victims of sexual harassment and gender based violence.”
Introducing the motion, Councillor McAlinden told the chamber that 17 women have been murdered in Northern Ireland since 2010.
“The vast majority of these women have been killed in their own homes, a place where they thought they were safe and by a close friend or intimate partner,” said the Craigavon councillor.
“The level of domestic violence continues to increase; 33,186 domestic abuse incidents were recorded by police last year and we can no longer stand by and allow these brutal crimes to continue. We must tackle the culture and behaviours that have enabled these crimes to continue.
“Tougher sentencing is only part of the answer. We all have a role to play. Therefore I propose the motion in front of you and hope you all give it your full support.”
Seconding the proposal, his party colleague, Councillor Grainne O’Neill said: “No women should have to live in fear”.
“We should be able to feel safe in our homes, at work or school or on a night out with friends,” she said.
“Several recent high profile incidents have proved this is not 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 council should back this motion and send a clear message that it stands fully behind women and girls and we will do everything in our power to support victims and educate people about these issues.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Brona Haughey said women and girls across the borough, and further afield, have been “deeply affected” by these “devastating attacks and are united for change”.
“Violence against women is an epidemic and is a societal problem,” she said. “Women and girls have lived in fear forever and we support and welcome this motion. It is time to end violence against women and girls.”
UUP Councillor Julie Flaherty said this will be “quite a personal issue” for a lot of families in the borough and said the motion is one the local authority needs to “stand squarely behind” before thanking Councillor McAlinden for bringing it forward.
Alliance Party Councillor Jessica Johnston said it was an “important motion” and described violence against women and girls as “both intolerable and immensely wrong”.
“Aspects of this motion, such as commitment to training on the realities of sexual harassment and gender-based violence, are some really important steps that we can take to keep moving forward in the right direction,” she said.
DUP Councillor Margaret Tinsley confirmed her party would “100 per cent support this motion” and spoke of her hope the Women’s Aid centre on the Tandragee Road would one day reopen, describing it as a “great source of sanctuary for many women and their children”.
Bringing the debate to a close, Councillor McAlinden thanked members for their support and revealed he had talked about it with the McNally family prior to bringing it before the chamber.
“I shared this motion with Noel McNally last week and he was, in a way, delighted we are bringing this forward,” said Councillor McAlinden. “I want to thank you all for supporting this tonight and hopefully it will bring some comfort to victims’ families going forward.”