Prominent Irishmen seek change to prostitution laws


A GROUP of well-known Irish men have launched a campaign urging the introduction of radical laws that would shift the Garda’s approach to prostitution by making it illegal for a man to buy sex but not for a woman to sell it.

The men, including singer Christy Moore, are fronting the new Turn Off The Red Light campaign which has been organised by Ruhama, the Dublin-based group that works with women involved in prostitution.

Ruhama wants the introduction of Nordic-style legislation that has reduced demand for prostitution there by criminalising male clients and focusing police attention on them instead of on prostitutes. This had deterred men from seeking out prostitutes.

The laws were introduced in Sweden in 1999 and since then there has been greatly reduced demand for prostitutes, with half the number of women working on the streets. Trafficking into Sweden for the purposes of sexual exploitation has also declined. Norway and Iceland have introduced similar legislation and a report on the Swedish-style laws is being considered here by the Attorney General.

Ruhama has enlisted highprofile Irish men to launch its campaign to urge the introduction of the legislation here.

The men who spoke at yesterday’s launch included David Begg, Irish Congress of Trade Unions; John Cunningham, Immigrant Council of Ireland; Eamon Devoy, Technical Engineering and Electrical Union; Theo Dorgan, poet; Fergus Finlay, Barnardos and writer/director Peter Sheridan. Mr Sheridan said he was typical of many Irish men when he had held “woolly” beliefs that a man and woman who wanted to engage in a transaction involving sexual favours were not doing any harm.

However, when recently contacted by Ruhama he quickly became aware of the level of violence and poverty endured by women and the ruthlessness of the gangs that control them. “It’s frightening to think it’s the woman for sale, not the sex act. It’s a form of slavery,” he said.

John Cunningham said the Immigrant Council of Ireland had come across cases of women and girls trafficked into Ireland for sexual exploitation. Some had been collected at Dublin airport and taken to apartments where they were gang raped for days.

They were then given “a few days to pull themselves together” before being put to work in brothels operating across rural and urban areas.

Labour’s justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte TD yesterday said Labour in government would enact the legislation the Ruhama campaign is seeking.

At present it is a criminal offence in the Republic to solicit on the street for the purposes of prostitution. A prostitute can be prosecuted, as can a man trying to buy sex. However, it is not a criminal offence here to buy or sell sex.

A huge portion of the prostitution trade is conducted in apartments advertised online as escort services. It is almost impossible for gardaí to prosecute those involved because of its covert nature.

However, a new law introducing a clear ban on the purchase of sex would not only deter men and thus reduce demand, it would greatly aid the Garda in prosecuting male clients. Women could still be prosecuted for soliciting, but not for the sale of sex.