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Prostitution in the Republic of Ireland

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Prostitution in the Republic of Ireland

Prostitution in Ireland is, itself, legal, but most activities associated with it (such as soliciting in a public place, operating brothels, and other forms of pimping) are illegal.


  • History 1
    • Eighteenth century 1.1
    • Nineteenth century 1.2
    • Twentieth century 1.3
    • Twenty first century 1.4
  • Legal status 2
  • Politics 3
  • Forms and extent of prostitution 4
  • Advocacy 5
    • Organisations 5.1
    • Campaigns 5.2
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • External links 9


Eighteenth century

Prostitution was both highly visible and pervasive in 18th-century brothels to high class courtesans, who were often illegitimate daughters of the upper class. A well known example was Margaret Leeson. The role of the prostitute in 18th century Ireland was at least partly a product of the double standard of female sexuality. Typical of this was the way that venereal disease was constructed as being spread by prostitutes rather than their largely male clients. Irish prostitutes were frequently the victims of violence against women. Early 'rescue' campaigns emerged in this time with Lady Arabella Denny and the Magdalene Asylums. These provided shelter but in return expected menial labour and penitence.[1]

Nineteenth century

The changing nature of Irish society following the 1801

  • The Curragh Wrens, by Con Costello, The Curragh History Web Site
  • The campaign to introduce the Swedish Model into the Irish Laws on Prostitution. David Walsh. Turn on the Red Light
  • Turn Off the Red Light
  • Sex Workers Alliance Ireland
  • . Eilís Ward, Gillian Wylie. European Journal of Women's Studies August 2014 vol. 21 no. 3 251-263‘Reflexivities of discomfort’: Researching the sex trade and sex trafficking in Ireland
  • Eilís Ward. Prostitution law may cause harm to women. Irish Times October 19 2011
  • “Prostitution and the Irish State: from Prohibitionism to a Globalised Sex Trade” Eilís Ward. Irish Political Studies, Vol. 25 (1): 4-66, 2010
  • Niamh O’Reilly, J Irish StudiesStriapacha Tri Chead Bliain Duailcis (Prostitutes: Three Hundred Years of Vice)
  • . Philip Howell. Irish Historical Studies. Vol. 33, No. 131 (May, 2003), pp. 320-341Venereal Disease and the Politics of Prostitution in the Irish Free State
  • Denton, Morgan Paige. Ph.D. Thesis, STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT BUFFALO, 2012Open secrets: Prostitution and national identity in twentieth century Irish society.
  • "An Outcast Community: the 'wrens' of the Curragh" (PDF), by Maria Luddy, Women's History Review, Volume 1, Issue 3 (1992), pp. 341–355
  • “Abandoned Women and Bad Characters”: prostitution in nineteenth-century Ireland (PDF), by Maria Luddy, Women's History Review, Volume 6, Issue 4 (1997), pp. 485–504

External links

  • Sex in the City: The Prostitution Racket in Ireland, by Paul Reynolds (Author), Pan (7 November 2003) ISBN 978-0-7171-3688-9
  • Lyn's Escape, by Lyn Madden, Cork University Press (2007) ISBN 978-1-85594-207-3
  • Prostitution in Ireland Today, by Stephen Rogers, Gill & Macmillan (2009) ISBN 978-0-7171-4491-4
  • Monto: Madams, Murder and Black Coddle, by Terry Fagan and the North Inner City Folklore Project (2000)
  • Story of Monto (Mercier mini book), by John Finegan (Author), Mercier Press (Feb 1978) ISBN 0-85342-515-9
  • , 1800–1940Prostitution and Irish Society, by Maria Luddy, Cambridge University Press (Nov 2007) ISBN 978-0-521-70905-7


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Niamh O’Reilly, J Irish StudiesStriapacha Tri Chead Bliain Duailcis (Prostitutes: Three Hundred Years of Vice)
  2. ^ Terry Fagan. Red-light alert. Independent April 10 2011
  3. ^ The Curragh Wrens, by Con Costello, The Curragh History Web Site
  4. ^ "An Outcast Community: the 'wrens' of the Curragh" (PDF), by Maria Luddy, Women's History Review, Volume 1, Issue 3 (1992), pp. 341–355]
  5. ^ Fagan, Terry; North Inner City Folklore Project (2000). Monto: Madams, Murder and Black Coddle. 
  6. ^ Criminal Law Amendment Act 1935 (No. 6 1935)
  7. ^ “Prostitution and the Irish State: from Prohibitionism to a Globalised Sex Trade” Eilís Ward. Irish Political Studies, Vol. 25 (1): 4-66, 2010
  8. ^ Lyn: A Story of Prostitution, by June Levine and Lyn Madden, Cork University Press (1987) ISBN 9780946211456
  9. ^ Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 (No. 20 1993)
  10. ^ Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 (No. 2 1994)
  11. ^ Nicola Tallant (28 December 2005). "NEW PLEA IN HUNT FOR BELINDA KILLER". The Mirror. 
  12. ^ Unknown (23 June 1998). "We knew prostitute would be murdered". The Mirror. 
  13. ^ Karl Whitney. ""Honor Bright" and "Death in a Lonely Spot"". 
  14. ^ Reynolds, Paul (2003). Sex in the City: The Prostitution Racket in Ireland.  
  15. ^ Equality & Law Reform and An Garda Síochána Working Group (May 2006). "Report on Trafficking in Human Beings" (PDF). Department of Justice. 
  16. ^ "Irish Statute Book". Office of the Attorney General, Ireland. 
  17. ^ "Criminal Law (Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Offences) Bill 2006" (PDF). Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 
  18. ^ a b c d Prostitution regulation in Ireland: which way now? Oirechtas Library & Research Service, No. 6/2012
  19. ^ "Pressure groups lock horns over changes to laws on prostitution", Jim Cusack, Irish Independent, 20 February 2011.
  20. ^ "Irish Justice Minister in move to change laws on purchase of sex", Cathal Dervan, Irish Central, 3 October 2011.
  21. ^ Labour Women: Submission on the Review of Legislation on Prostitution. August 2012
  22. ^ Discussion Document on Future Direction of Prostitution Legislation. Department of Justice and Equality, June 2012
  23. ^ 'Ireland considering the Swedish model against prostitution? Maybe not after all'. Louise Persson. Harm Reduction International
  24. ^ a b The campaign to introduce the Swedish Model into the Irish Laws on Prostitution. David Walsh. Turn on the Red Light 2014
  25. ^ Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. Report on hearings and submissions on the Review of Legislation on Prostitution. June 2013 Part I
  26. ^ Part II: Witnesses & Submissions
  27. ^ Part III: Committee Debates
  28. ^ Law reform ‘will make prostitution more dangerous’. Irish Examiner June 21 2014
  29. ^ Irish Times. May 20 2014et al.Prostitution and legislation. Ronit Lentin
  30. ^ James Downey. We'll never eradicate prostitution - so target vile trafficking instead. Independent December 14 2013
  31. ^
  32. ^ Pringle Introduces Bill Criminalising Buying Sexual Services, press release, Thomas Pringle TD, March 13, 2013.
  33. ^ Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2013 Second Stage Debate May 3 2013.
  34. ^ Second Stage Debate (resumed) May 7 2013.
  35. ^ Jimmy Carter calls for reform of Irish law on prostitution. Irish Examiner Sept 2 2014
  36. ^ David Walsh. Carter's intervention over prostitution law is ill judged. Independent Sept 3 2014
  37. ^ "Lucrative 'escort' website claims new owner is a former Irish prostitute", Ali Bracken, Irish Tribune, 11 January 2009
  38. ^ Kathleen Fahy (May 2006). "Presentation to the Oireachtas Justice Committee". Ruhama. 
  39. ^ "Irish Escort Clients 2006 Survey". February 2006. 
  40. ^ Ruhama website, retrieved 3 September 2013.
  41. ^ "Ruhama reports 18 per cent increase in demand for support services", The, 22 August 2012.
  42. ^ Sex Workers Alliance Ireland
  43. ^ "Sex workers must not be viewed as victims, says group", Irish Times, 11 November 2009
  44. ^ Turn Off the Red Light, website
  45. ^ "Group calls for reform of prostitution laws", RTÉ News / Ireland, 2 February 2011
  46. ^ "Prominent Irishmen seek change to prostitution laws", Connor Lally, Irish Times, 3 February 2011
  47. ^ Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. Irish Nurses call for new prostitution laws in Ireland 2014
  48. ^ Prostitution – target the real criminals. WIN October 2012 Vol 20 Iss 8. INMO
  49. ^ Turn Off the Blue Light, website
  50. ^ "International Workers Day and the Labour Rights of Women", Máiréad Enright, Human Rights in Ireland


  • Monto, the nickname for the one-time red-light district of Dublin.

See also

In response, a counter-campaign called "Turn Off the Blue Light" was created by sex workers and supporters in favour of liberalisation to rebut what they see as misleading information and to present a positive image of sex workers in Ireland.[49][50]

A campaign set up in 2011 to end prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland called "Turn Off the Red Light" is run by an alliance of more than 66 community, union and religious groups,[44][45][46] including the National Women's Council.


SWAI (Sex Workers Alliance Ireland), is an advocacy group for sex workers in Ireland, was formed in 2009 by an alliance of individuals and groups to promote the social inclusion, health, safety, civil rights, and the right to self-determination of sex workers.[42][43]

[41][40] Ruhama (



Prostitutes of many nationalities now reside in Ireland and Ruhama, an organisation opposed to prostitution, reported to the government in 2006 claiming that over 200 women were trafficked into Ireland.[18][38][39]

For many years prior to the 1993 Sexual Offences Act, most female prostitutes worked on the streets, but, since this time, brothels marketed as escort agencies have been the most prevalent form of prostitution. Advertising in print publications is illegal, but a very developed Internet advertising medium exists.

There are no up-to-date reliable figures estimating the number of women or men currently working in prostitution in Ireland, but one estimate is 1,000.[18] During Ireland's economic boom male demand for female prostitution services increased. There has been a marked increase in people turning towards the internet and sites as a more effective means of advertising.[37]

Forms and extent of prostitution

In August 2014, former US President Jimmy Carter wrote to all Irish politicians urging the adoption of the criminalisation of purchase. Carter had been briefed by the Immigrant Council of Ireland, a leading figure in the Turn off The Red Light campaign.[35][36]

In June 2012, the Department of Justice and Equality issued its Discussion Document on Future Direction of Prostitution Legislation.[22] In September 2012, the Oirechtas produced a background document entitled Prostitution regulation in Ireland: which way now?[18] This was followed by a conference in Dublin organised by the Department, to discuss policy alternatives.[23] Following a request by the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Oireachtas Justice Committee held hearings on discussion document between December 2012 and February 2013. Prior to the hearings a number of the committee members, such as Senator Katherine Zappone (Ind.) had already committed to a sex purchase ban, and the majority of submissions and presentations supported this measure and were associated with Turn Off the Red Light.[24] In June 2013, it produced a unanimous report [25] [26] [27] recommending reform of Ireland’s laws on prostitution, including criminalising purchase, and providing services for those wishing to exit prostitution.[28][29] Of the opposition parties both Fianna Fail (20 seats) and Sinn Fein (14 seats) have expressed support for this approach at their 2013 Ardfheiseanna (party conferences), with the only dissenting voices coming from the independent block of Teachtaí Dálain (delegates - T.D.) in the Dáil.[24] However there has been a reluctance on the part of the Government to act on the recommendations.[30] A Private Member's Bill was however introduced in the Dáil in March 2013, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2013,[31] by Thomas Pringle T.D. (Ind.) which would criminalise the purchase of sex, on behalf of Turn Off the Red Light,[32] which was given a second reading in May 2013,[33] receiving the support of Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. The Government preferred to wait for the Justice Committee report, and the bill was defeated on May 7, 2013.[34]

Discussion of proposed law reform became an issue in the 2011 elections, with some support from opposition parties likely to become the new Government. A group of non-government and union bodies emerged pressuring both the current government and opposition parties to abolish prostitution, by criminalising the buying of sex, along Swedish lines. At the same time, those supporting the status quo or advocating a more liberal approach challenged this argument.[19][20] In the ensuing Dáil election on February 25 a new Government was formed by Fine Gael (70 seats) and Labour (34 seats). The women's branch of the Labour Party support criminalisation of purchase.[21]


Prostitution itself is not an offence under Irish law. However, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act of 1993 prohibits soliciting or importuning another person in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution (this offence applies to prostitute and client). It also prohibits loitering for the purpose of prostitution, organising prostitution by controlling or directing the activities of a person in prostitution, coercing one to practice prostitution for gain, living on earnings of the prostitution of another person, and keeping a brothel or other premises for the purpose of prostitution. Advertising brothels and prostitution is prohibited by the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act of 1994. The minimum legal age for a prostitute in Ireland is 18 years (child prostitution legislation exists to protect persons under this age). The Criminal Law (Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Offences) Bill 2006 came into force making trafficking in persons for the purpose of their sexual exploitation a specific offence, though previous legislation already covered much of this area.[16][17][18]

Legal status

Operation Quest was launched by the Gardaí in 2003, with the aim of tackling human trafficking, prostitution and criminality within the lap dancing industry, followed by Operation Hotel in 2005, with the aim of tackling the trafficking of females from Eastern Europe to work in the sex industry in Ireland.[15] Essentially the legal framework has not changed over twenty years, but discussions about alternatives emerged in 2011 (see Politics).

Twenty first century

1999 also saw the launch of Operation Gladiator, a police operation targeting those who profit from organised prostitution. It was the first operation of its type and lasted under a year, but in that time it identified and built cases against several major Dublin brothel-keepers.[14]

Of note was the frequent reference to the inadequacy of the existing legislation, but there was little debate about possible alternative models.[1] While Ireland has an international commitment to protecting the well-being of women trafficked to Ireland for the purposes of prostitution, there was little or no discussion about the rights and well-being of Irish women working in prostitution. The violent murders of prostitutes Belinda Pereira, a UK resident working for a Dublin escort agency on 28 December 1996[11] and Sinead Kelly[12] a young street prostitute in 1998 caused questions to be raised about the benefits of the 1993 act. Until Belinda Periera was murdered in a city centre apartment in the winter of 1996, the last murder of a prostitute while working (Dolores Lynch was murdered in her home in 1983, and seems to have no longer been working as a prostitute at the time) was in 1925 when the body of Lily O'Neill (known as "Honor Bright") was found in the Dublin Mountains.[13]

The blatant wealth of Ireland's brothel-keepers in the 1990s was such that the media began to take more interest.[1] Section 23 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994[10] prohibited the advertising of brothels and prostitution and in 1999 the Censorship of Publications Board banned In Dublin magazine from carrying escort advertisements. Criminal proceedings were also brought against the magazine's publisher, Mike Hogan. The In Dublin magazine case heralded the end of escort advertising in print publications. However, the suppression of advertising had little effect as the internet and mobile phones were changing the nature of the trade. Ireland's first escort website, Escort Ireland, had already established itself the previous year to take over In Dublin magazine's role.[1]

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993,[9] made soliciting an offence for both prostitute and customer and independent prostitution declined as the women were forced into the massage parlours to avoid arrest, where they were now disempowered by necessity and terms and conditions rapidly declined. By the late 1990s the age of the brothel, and the brothel-keeper, had truly returned. Society seemed accepting of discreet, indoor prostitution establishments and every week the mainstream entertainment magazine In Dublin ran advertisements for escort services and 'massage parlouirs' (brothels), which were usually the business operations of a small number of men and women, who knew running brothels was illegal, but were prepared to take the risk, given the massive profits involved. The magazine earned substantial revenue from these advertisements.[1]

[1], preventing media coverage and contributing to the illusion of Irish purity. In the 1950s there was much public attention around the plight of Irish women working as prostitutes in England. These were portrayed not so much as 'fallen' women, but rather as innocents lured into evil. The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s helped to expose the double standards. Notable was the story of in camera prohibited contraception and required sex crimes cases to be tried [7][6] The Criminal Law Amendment Act 1935

[1] However, street prostitution remained intrinsically linked to the Dublin Underworld. The 1920s and 1930s witnessed a new era Church-State morality and censorship. The Magdalene Asylums became more punitive, imprisoning young women who transgressed conventional sexual morality, some for the duration of their lives, the last asylum closing only in 1996.[5] Emerging nationalism tended to see prostitution and venereal disease as legacies of colonialism that could be resolved through independence. This movement became linked to Catholic conservatism which demanded

Twentieth century


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