Sex-trafficking: Why is Ireland’s record so poor?

Padraig O’Morain: It is our duty to prioritise the destruction of sex-trafficking

Compare and contrast. Within a fairly short drive of wherever you live you could probably find a woman to have sex with for money. She could be a woman who chose to go into this business. You could regard her choice as good, neutral or terrible choice, but it’s a choice.

As her "client" you run the risk of arrest under Part 4 of the Sexual Offences Act (2017). This legislation means you, the client, have committed an offence but the woman has not. A report for Maynooth University says, however, that the legislation endangers women and should be repealed.

By contrast, she could be a woman trafficked into Ireland, raped and beaten until she submits to her captors. She doesn't have a passport, is effectively a prisoner and doesn't speak English. She is, really, a slave. You won't get arrested coming out of this place though because, by definition, the gardaí won't know about it.

Which trade would you rather the Gardaí focused their investigative resources on? Which would you rather Government focused on?


Surely the trafficking trade, in which women are emotionally and psychologically destroyed, is the one we should focus all available resources?

Remember we are talking here about the destruction of exploited people

It’s particularly disturbing that at about the time the irrelevant – at best – legislation mentioned above was being brought into law, Ireland was on the brink of a shameful descent.

We were about to begin a series of downgrades in the league of international efforts in tackling trafficking, including sex trafficking. This league table is compiled regularly by the US Department of State. We are one of the poorest performing countries in Europe in this regard.

And there's a lot of it going on here. A spokeswoman for the Immigrant Council of Ireland told The Irish Times' Jack Horgan-Jones that trafficking for sexual exploitation in Ireland "remains pervasive, hidden and widely spread".

A Ruhama spokeswoman said that "We must be under no illusions – sex trafficking is happening in every city, town and village across the country . . . "

It’s easy for statements like those to slip past especially when we are focused on a pandemic. But they are shocking, actually, if you allow them to sink in. Remember we are talking here about the destruction of exploited people.

The good news is gardaí have had big successes recently along with the PSNI in relation to trafficking linked to the heroin trade

I have quoted the assessment by the Immigrant Council of Ireland and Ruhama of the extent of sex trafficking. I should make it clear that they do not share my dismissive attitude to the 2017 legislation and that they campaigned for it.

The decriminalisation of prostitution by prostitutes while criminalising their clients struck me at the time as a piece of nonsensical political virtue-signalling which would change nothing. However, the Maynooth University study for HIV Ireland says sex workers feel monitored by gardaí seeking to intercept their clients and that they cannot work together for safety for fear of a brothel-keeping charge, according to Kitty Holland's report.

The report is written by Dr Paul Ryan and Dr Kathryn McGarry, of the Department of Sociology at Maynooth University. It calls for the law to be repealed, based on recognition of the reality of sex work and the need to keep those involved in it safe.

A review provided for in the original legislation is currently under way at the Department of Justice and the closing date for submissions has been extended until the 19th of this month.

The good news is gardaí have had big successes recently along with the PSNI in relation to trafficking linked to the heroin trade.

This suggests they could have equally big successes in relation to sex trafficking.

That members of such a force can be sent to sit outside a house where a woman is operating by choice reflects a lamentable sense of priorities on behalf of the “lawmakers” who created the legislation.

Forced sex-trafficking is an evil trade and it is our duty to prioritise its destruction. This means we need to see a strong political interest in moving to the top of the league of countries that tackle this issue well.

Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (