At the height of Covid restrictions in January, Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly was harassed by a man as she walked through the city centre, as was another woman on the abandoned street. Such were their concerns that the two women — strangers — made a snap decision to get into the politician’s car and travel home together, in order to get away from the aggressive and threatening man as quickly as possible.
ow, says the TD, it is finally time for our society to address the threat of gender-based violence.
“What happened to me was a very minor incident. But I have never met a woman who hasn’t had an experience where they have felt threatened by a man. It is not acceptable,” she told the Sunday Independent.
“Between the tragic case of Nadine Lott here and Sarah Everard in the UK, violence against women is in the spotlight.
“The time is now for education to begin in primary schools to teach boys and girls how to treat one another, about what is acceptable and what is not. It is not rocket science and small changes could make a big difference to people’s everyday lives.”
It was a dark evening in January when the Dublin Fingal TD was walking back to her car after a dental appointment.
Level 5 Covid restrictions were back in place, as Covid infections were at an all-time high following Christmas.
She walked down Cathedral Street and Marlborough Street when she became aware of a man following her and shouting at her.
“There wasn’t a sinner around and this guy just started shouting and roaring at me, and another younger woman, we were the only two people around. We locked eyes. We were both worried, no-one wants to be dealing with that sort of thing,” she explained.
“We reached Cathal Brugha Street where my car was parked. I clicked it open and turned to her and offered her a lift.
“‘Is it allowed?’ she asked, because the Covid restrictions were at the strictest level. I told her the Minister for Justice had said that any person who felt under threat didn’t have to adhere to the restrictions.
“I certainly don’t believe I am above the law just because I’m a politician. But I didn’t feel it was safe to leave that woman alone on the street because of the behaviour and the demeanour of that man. She agreed and got into my car and I drove her home. I gave her my business card so she could get in touch with me afterwards if needs be. We had our masks on and the four windows open. We both got a fright. We had a nice chat. I was a bit shook, we both were.
“I grew up in Dublin and I don’t think I should be made feel intimidated in my own city, and I did that evening.
“My incident was at the lowest end of the scale. But is still shouldn’t have happened. Very few men out there would be threatening or violent to women. But every woman I know has had a similar experience to me. And that’s probably representative of all women in this country.”
The politician continued that education programmes should be rolled out in schools to teach youngsters to be respectful of the opposite sex.
“I think we can teach children from a young age to respect one another’s space. To realise that it’s not OK to walk too close to people sometimes, especially in places where there’s no-one else around, that that can feel intimidating even though that might not be the intention,” she said.
“We’ve all heard the stories about women walking alone in parks, particularly during Covid, and becoming worried when a man is walking too close to them in an isolated area and no-one else is around. The vast majority of the time there is probably nothing to fear. But the reality also is that men and teenage boys often don’t even realise the panic they might be causing someone.”
For secondary school students and adults, there needs to be education on how to react if we see gender-based violence on the street, she added.
“For teenagers and adults, I believe we need to educate everyone on how to intervene if you see gender-based violence,” she said.
“There are things we can do if we witness these incidents, and it doesn’t have to involve putting yourself in harm’s way. You don’t have to put yourself in danger to apply solidarity. There are practical things people can do like just standing nearby, asking the person are they OK, and just remaining in the vicinity. An inter-generational conversation needs to happen and it needs to happen now.”
Ms O’Reilly recently introduced a private members’ bill calling for the introduction of paid leave from work for victims of domestic violence.
“The Government did not oppose it and it is now in the programme for government. This is a societal issue. We need a conversation about all aspects of domestic violence and gender-based violence and of course some men can be victims too, but it is mostly women.
“We need to approach it from every angle, legislate for it as much as we can to protect people and also educate and discuss this important issue because it affects all of our society. I know I’m not the only woman who when I am travelling home alone after a night out, my friends insist I text them when I am home safe. That in itself says it all.”