Ireland became the “destination of choice” for working prostitutes during the boom, where they could earn three times as much as in other European countries.
Superintendent Fergus Healy of the Garda’s Crime Policy and Administration Unit made the observation during hearings by the Oireachtas justice committee into the state of prostitution in Ireland.
Supt Healy said gardaí estimated that there are still around 800 women working on a daily basis as prostitutes in the Republic, with their services available in every county.
The committee heard that the number of prostitutes working on streets had reduced dramatically following the introduction of legislation in 1993.
However, he acknowledged that prostitution had since moved indoors as a result of advances in technology and the use of the internet and mobile phones.
Supt Healy admitted it was a sector that was difficult to police because of its “faceless nature”.
Official figures show that only a quarter of prosecutions taken by gardaí for a variety of offences result in a conviction.
In 2010, there were 56 convictions from 202 prosecutions and 55 convictions from 211 prosecutions in 2011. Last year, 12 people were convicted as a result of 112 prosecutions, although not all cases have been finalised.
Supt Healy said the statistics on convictions reflected the transient nature of the industry as many people due to be prosecuted had left the jurisdiction by the time the case came to court.
Approximately half of all prosecutions for prostitution-related offences are for soliciting while around a third relate to brothel keeping.
Supt Healy said there were strong links between prostitution being run by both Irish and foreign organised criminal gangs.
He claimed most women found it difficult to leave the industry. Despite the huge financial gains which could be made, he stressed that it was “a sinister world”.
Paul Maguire, the editor of RTÉ’s new investigations unit and who presented a Prime Time special investigation into prostitution in Feb 2012, said their research over a 12-month period suggested the industry was highly organised.
RTÉ had tracked online websites advertising escort services which suggested 693 different women were available on average each day.
The average age of those advertising such services was just over 25 years.
Mr Maguire said just over 1% of the profiles were for Irish women, with the vast majority of prostitutes believed to come from eastern Europe, although many advertised themselves as coming from places like Spain or France.
The scale of the industry could be measured by the fact that an RTÉ researcher posing online as a prostitute had received 350 calls over a five-day period, Mr Maguire said.
He observed the number of profiles of women advertising prostitution fell in the immediate aftermath of the programme’s transmission last February but is currently back above 2012 levels again.
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