If you were to pick a country in Europe that was a hotbed of prostitution and sexual services, the average person would probably plump for Holland or Germany. They might consider Spain and certain areas of France. Britain would certainly get a mention as would some of the new eastern European counties that are now part of the EU such as Latvia, Lithuania and perhaps Hungary. But would the average person think of Ireland, that saintly Emerald Isle in the North Atlantic, originally known as the “Land of Saints and Scholars”? Could this be the same Ireland that was ruled so oppressively by the Roman Catholic Church over the decades after its formation as a republic?
Well, that is indeed the case. In the 26 counties that form the Republic of Ireland, prostitution is legal. In the Six Counties that are governed by Great Britain, prostitution is strictly illegal. The caveat with the law allowing prostitution in the Republic of Ireland is that many of the activities surrounding the purchase of sex are illegal. Soliciting a prostitute is illegal, for example. A potential client caught offering to pay for sex will face a day in court. Similarly, you cannot run a brothel in Ireland or covertly operate a masseuse parlour as one. Prostitutes cannot sell their services on the streets legally, though of course many do. “Kerb crawling” where punters solicited prostitutes whilst driving around in their cars was a common feature of city streets in Ireland during the eighties but the advent of the internet has made the acquisition of paid-for sexual services more streamlined and easy in Ireland. Being a pimp or controlling a prostitute is an offence however, but that is where the forbidden aspect of it ends.
What the lack of a specific law banning prostitution allows is what is happening in cities towns and indeed villages all over Ireland now – Irish and foreign girls are selling sexual services in their homes – quite legally. Using discreet networking services to promote their availability, they are breaking no law. Indeed, since the economic disaster that befell Ireland since 2008, the practise has mushroomed as cash-starved Irish colleens decided to use their bodies to provide extra cash or to make up the income from the loss of a job.
A recent online poll placed Ireland as the third best place for sex tourism in Europe, primarily because of the lack of legal sanction against prostitution and the multiplying availability of services throughout the 26 counties. As long as the laws remain unchanged, the situation is only going to get worse and when Tourism Ireland announced a major drive to draw attract tourists in 2010, this was hardly the kind of attraction they had in mind or were trying to promote.