Prostitution in the Republic of Ireland

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"Prostitution in Ireland" redirects here. For Northern Ireland, see Prostitution in Northern Ireland.

Life in 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.


In the late 19th and early 20th century Dublin's Monto district was reputedly the largest red light district in Europe, but the 1920s saw the decline of Monto, as the Legion of Mary led by Frank Duff successfully crusaded to close down the brothels of Monto and bring religion to the area. Prostitution continued to exist in the form of individual women selling sexual services on the streets in cities, but it was a long time before organised prostitution was seen again.[1] However, street prostitution remained intrinsically linked to the Dublin Underworld.

The early 1980s brought significant change, partly in response to the particularly brutal murder of former prostitute and women's rights activist Dolores Lynch, along with her elderly mother and aunt by alleged pimp John Cullen[2] and partly in response to group of street prostitutes bringing a successful supreme court challenge to the constitutionality of Victorian laws that required a defendant to first be identified as a common prostitute through the citing of previous convictions before conviction was possible. This successful challenge created a situation of effective decriminalisation, that also offered the women the same access to the protection of the law as anyone else.

During this period prostitutes were largely independent and had a good relationship with the Gardaí. Pimping was almost unheard of, as were the other crimes previously associated with prostitution. Any suggestion of organised prostitution was limited to a small number of massage parlours in an environment where the workers were empowered to negotiate favourable terms and conditions for themselves.

The Criminal Law Sexual Offences Act of 1993, 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 In Dublin magazine was full of escort advertisements for 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 blatant wealth of Ireland's brothel-keepers in the 1990s was such that the media began to take more interest.

The violent murders of prostitutes Belinda Pereira, a UK resident working for a Dublin escort agency on 28 December 1996[3] and Sinead Kelly[4] 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.[5]

Section 23 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 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, but Ireland's first escort website, Escort Ireland, had already established itself the previous year to take over In Dublin magazine's role. 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.[6]

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.[7]

Legal status[edit]

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.[8][9]


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.[10][11]

Forms and extent of prostitution[edit]

There are no up-to-date reliable figures estimating the number of women or men currently working in prostitution in Ireland. During Ireland's economic boom male demand for female prostitution services increased.[citation needed] There has been a marked increase in people turning towards the internet and sites as a more effective means of advertising.[12]

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.

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.[13][14]


Ruhama (Hebrew for renewed life), established in 1989, is a Dublin-based NGO which works on a national level with women affected by prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation. The organisation regards prostitution as violence against women and violations of women's human rights. Ruhama sees prostitution and the social and cultural attitudes which sustain it as being deeply rooted in gender inequality and social marginalisation. Ruhama offers a range of services to support women in and exiting prostitution. Ruhama also seeks to highlight sex trafficking.[15][16]

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.[17][18]

A 2011 campaign 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.[19][20][21]

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.[22][23]

See also[edit]

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

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Fagan, Terry; North Inner City Folklore Project (2000). Monto: Madams, Murder and Black Coddle. 
  2. ^ Madden, Lyn; June Levin (1987). Lyn: A Story of Prostitution. 
  3. ^ Nicola Tallant (28 December 2005). "NEW PLEA IN HUNT FOR BELINDA KILLER". The Mirror. 
  4. ^ Unknown (23 June 1998). "We knew prostitute would be murdered". The Mirror. 
  5. ^ Karl Whitney. ""Honor Bright" and "Death in a Lonely Spot"". 
  6. ^ Reynolds, Paul (2003). Sex in the City: The Prostitution Racket in Ireland. ISBN 0-7171-3688-4. 
  7. ^ Equality & Law Reform and An Garda Síochána Working Group (May 2006). "Report on Trafficking in Human Beings". Department of Justice. 
  8. ^ "Irish Statute Book". Office of the Attorney General, Ireland. 
  9. ^ "Criminal Law (Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Offences) Bill 2006". Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 
  10. ^ "Pressure groups lock horns over changes to laws on prostitution", Jim Cusack, Irish Independent, 20 February 2011.
  11. ^ "Irish Justice Minister in move to change laws on purchase of sex", Cathal Dervan, Irish Central, 3 October 2011.
  12. ^ "Lucrative 'escort' website claims new owner is a former Irish prostitute", Ali Bracken, Irish Tribune, 11 January 2009
  13. ^ Kathleen Fahy (May 2006). "Presentation to the Oireachtas Justice Committee". Ruhama. 
  14. ^ "Irish Escort Clients 2006 Survey". February 2006. 
  15. ^ Ruhama website, retrieved 3 September 2013.
  16. ^ "Ruhama reports 18 per cent increase in demand for support services", The, 22 August 2012.
  17. ^ Sex Workers Alliance Ireland
  18. ^ "Sex workers must not be viewed as victims, says group", Irish Times, 11 November 2009
  19. ^ Turn Off the Red Light, website
  20. ^ "Group calls for reform of prostitution laws", RTÉ News / Ireland, 2 February 2011
  21. ^ "Prominent Irishmen seek change to prostitution laws", Connor Lally, Irish Times, 3 February 2011
  22. ^ Turn Off the Blue Light[dead link] Archived, website
  23. ^ "International Workers Day and the Labour Rights of Women", Máiréad Enright, Human Rights in Ireland

External links[edit]