A section of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015, which has still not been signed into law despite being published a year ago, criminalises the purchase of sex but decriminalises the person offering sexual services.
The minister was asked by Green Party TD Catherine Martin for her views on the way sex workers will be decriminalised “while still retaining sanctions for a person working together with another for safety”.
Ms Fitzgerald confirmed it is a provision of the law that it is an offence to keep or manage a brothel: “While I understand that this provision can prevent persons offering sexual services from working together with others, I am particularly concerned that any decriminalisation of brothel-keeping would create a legal loophole ripe for exploitation by the organised crime gangs involved in the trafficking and exploitation of women in prostitution.”
“Women would come under pressure to claim they were working independently when that is not the case and the Gardaí would be limited in the actions they could take to close brothels and disrupt the activities of criminal gangs. For this reason I have no plans to amend provisions relating to brothel- keeping at this time.”
Ms Martin also asked Ms Fitzgerald about the Government’s decision to criminalise solicitation under the Public Order Act. The minister explained that, on foot of government amendments, people offering sexual services were removed from the existing solicitation and loitering-related offences.
“This was in recognition of the exploitation associated with prostitution and the need to decriminalise the women and men involved in offering sexual services,” she said.
“People who solicit the sexual services of others — that is the buyers and pimps — remain subject to prosecution for the solicitation and loitering offences under the 1993 Act. This did, however, give rise to concerns that the Gardaí would be left with no means of combating any public nuisance if sexual services were to be offered, for example, in a residential area. There was also concern the provision could be exploited by criminal gangs.”
Ms Fitzgerald said that in order to address those concerns, an amendment was made to section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994.
“That section addresses a number of behaviours, for instance intoxication in a public place, for which a member of An Garda Síochána can issue a direction to a person so behaving to leave the area,” she said.
“Failing to comply with that direction can give rise to an offence. Loitering for the purpose of offering sexual services has now been added to the behaviours covered by Section 8. The effect of the proposed amendments will be that on-street prostitution will not be an offence, but the gardaí will still have the power to move persons offering sexual services on from a public place, when necessary.”