Scores of houses and apartments were sensationally raided throughout yesterday as gardaí sought to smash brothel-keeping businesses the length and breadth of the island.
Large amounts of documents, cash, computers, and phones were seized by more than 200 gardaí and 150 PSNI officers working as part of a long-running investigation code-named Operation Quest.
In the Republic, searches were made on more than 110 houses and apartments, with a particular emphasis on the lunchtime traffic for these illegal businesses.
In a parallel operation in the North, the PSNI raided 20 houses and made five arrests.
The raids began at dawn and were designed to target those directly involved in running the brothels and laundering cash.
Gardaí stressed that the women discovered to be working as prostitutes would be treated as witnesses or victims unless there was evidence linking them to the organisation of the activity.
Following the first two stages of the operation, three people were under arrest in Dublin.
One man in his 40s and a woman in her 20s were taken to Dundrum Garda Station in Dublin for questioning.
Another woman, also in her 20s, was held at Store St Garda Station.
Superintendent John Gilligan of the Garda Press Office said the operation was focused on those who made the profits from the trade.
“The majority of the brothels were in the South but there were also some in the North so we enlisted the help of the PSNI.
“We are not focused on the prostitutes working in these brothels, we are targeting those who are making a living off the earnings of the prostitutes.”
In Limerick, more than 15 properties were raided and it is believed that gardaí discovered women from England, Romania, Hungary, and Brazil who were working as prostitutes.
Gardaí are hoping to work with these women to establish who was running the brothels and controlling the businesses.
Gardaí had already arrested, prosecuted, and convicted several individuals and criminal groups involved in this activity as part of the ongoing operation.
The investigation has been in conjunction with the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Criminal Assets Bureau, Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, and Garda National Immigration Bureau.
In the North, 10 brothels were raided out of 20 premises searched. The operation was believed to focus on the businesses of a number of criminal gangs.
Three suspected victims of human trafficking were rescued and five people were arrested. There were searches conducted in every one of the six counties involving more than 150 PSNI officers.
PSNI Detective Superintendent Philip Marshall said the co-ordinated action demonstrated the commitment of his organisation and the gardaí to crack down on prostitution.
“We are determined to actually do something about this problem. It is not something society should stand for, it is a criminal offence, and police do take it seriously,” he said.
Support and advocacy group Ruhama welcomed the actions taken by both police services and the focus of the operation on the organisers of the trade.
Its chief executive, Sarah Benson, said: “The particularly strong message that is being put by the gardaí and the PSNI that the focus is on the organisers and those making a profit is to be really strongly welcomed.
“And the fact that they are recognising and acknowledging the women involved are vulnerable persons and potential victims of trafficking.”
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