In spite of the recession, there are now almost 900 prostitutes, mainly women, advertised on escort-ireland.com. In 2010, the total was closer to 600.
In Cork, where 70 women used to be advertised on the site, up to 90 are now listed in the city, which the website dubs “a capital of the Irish sex industry”.
Escort-ireland.com, which has a former brothel madam as its public face but which has been linked to a convicted male brothel owner, charges the women who advertise on it up to €350 per calendar month.
With so many women on its books, it is a multi-million euro operation.
The advertisements for prostitution on the site give graphic detail about the women including — often topless — photographs, detailed lists of sexual services offered, hourly and half hourly prices and, crucially, a mobile phone number.
Such advertisement would normally be clearly in breach of the laws on the promotion of prostitution. However, as the website is hosted outside the State in Britain, it can escape any legal censure.
The women on the site, who previously charged a minimum of €80-€100 for sex, are now charging as little as €50.
Fears have been expressed by anti-prostitution campaigners that, given the huge numbers of prostitutes listed, there is a significant risk that at least some of the women advertised on sites such as escort-ireland.com are offering sexual services against their will, although the site does say it campaigns against human trafficking.
Irish and British women account for approximately just 50 of the prostitutes advertised at any one time.
A significant percentage of the rest are from eastern Europe, which has a reputation as being the origin for many trafficking victims. There are also a large number from Italy, a known transit country for trafficked women.
Meanwhile, an undercover Garda operation has found brothels operating beside a church and another among doctors’ surgeries in Galway, prompting calls from a the city’s mayor, Padraig Conneely, for gardaí to take action.
Mr Conneely said prostitutes were “parading” close to the brothels in the city, one located close to St Augustine’s Church in the city centre and the other in The Crescent area, where a large number of doctor‘s’ surgeries are located.
Mr Conneely called for local gardaí to increase their efforts to shut down the two illegal businesses and appealed for the public’s assistance in the matter at a meeting of the Joint Policing Committee in the city.
Chief Superintendent Tom Curley said gardaí are aware of the existence of both brothels and that undercover operations are under way to gather evidence.
“We have people dedicated to this particular investigation,” said Chief Superintendent Curley. “Not alone is it a Galway investigation, but there is a national operations as well.
“On an ongoing basis, we get information regarding brothels or persons soliciting in the city.
“We know that certain times of the year are busier than others, especially the Galway Races and the Arts Festival, but to gather evidence in these cases is a difficult process.”