Senior officers said the dolls — which are child-like in appearance, weight, and anatomy — appear to be criminalised under child pornography laws.
However, a legal expert said any such prosecution “would be contested” in the courts as a defendant could argue that such a doll is not a child or that the doll does not equate with a child as covered by child pornography laws.
The concerns follow a landmark case this week in Britain, where a court ruled that the dolls fall under UK Customs laws banning the importation of “indecent or obscene” items.
British police said that while child sex dolls were a “relatively new phenomenon”, they had seized 123 of them in little over a year.
The silicone dolls, made in the Far East, typically weigh around 25kg (around the weight of an eight-year-old child) and cost thousands of euro to buy online.
Cari (Children at Risk Ireland), which provides therapy and support for children affected by child abuse, said the dolls indicate “a criminal interest in children” and that it was important gardaí were assured the laws were “sufficiently robust” to deal with it.
“There’s no doubt that they will come to Ireland at some stage if they are not already here, and we need to be prepared for that,” said Chief Superintendent Michael Daly of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau.
He told thethat the life-size child dolls were “fairly horrible” items.
He said his unit was “very concerned” at the prospect of them coming into Ireland and they were liaising with British police and the PSNI.
A 72-year-old primary school governor and married man, David Turner, was convicted in England this week of importing an indecent or obscene object in what the UK National Crime Agency called a “test case”.
Chief Supt Daly said gardaí started checking the law here when the case broke.
“Our legislation appears to be wide enough,” he said. “It does seem to fall within child pornography laws.”
Section 2.1 of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998, amended by the Criminal Law Sexual Offences Act 2017, states that child pornography includes “any visual representation whose dominant characteristic is the depiction, for a sexual purpose, of the genital or anal region of a child”.
Chief Supt Daly said while visual representation has tended to refer to pictures and the like, the legislation was “reasonably broad” and seemed to include “3D visual representations” such as a plastic child sex doll.
“I’ve received full images [of the dolls] from UK police and the dolls do show those regions [genital and anal],” he said. “They are fairly horrible items.”
He said the issue “has not been tested in the courts yet” and was seeking advice from the Garda Legal Section.
Professor of Law at the University of Limerick Shane Kilcommins said he believed the matter “would be contested in court” by defendants and that it would be “difficult” for the prosecution to prove its case.
Prof Kilcommins said the definition of child pornography as “any” visual representation meant it was “arguable that it can include 3D visual representations such as a sex doll”. He also said it was arguable that the doll “encourages” sexual activity with children.
However, he added: “The prosecution would have to prove that the dominant purpose of the doll is the depiction, for a sexual purpose, of the genital or anal region of a child.
“A defendant might argue that the doll does not depict a child, or that a doll does not equate with a child for the purposes of the legislation, or that it does not encourage or counsel sexual activity with children.”
The Department of Justice said there were no plans to amend the definition of child pornography further, but “issues such as this are kept under continuing review”.
Revenue Customs said that, “depending on the facts and circumstances, possession of dolls of the type referred to may constitute an offence” under the child pornography act.
Cari chief executive Mary Flaherty said the dolls “clearly do indicate a criminal interest in children”.