A Mayo county councillor has welcomed the Government’s move towards criminalising the purchase of sex.
Cabinet gave the go ahead this week to the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, to prepare legislation on the issue.
The legislation would see those who are detected buying sexual services, pimps and traffickers brought before the courts.
Councillor Therese Ruane, a long time vocal campaigner for the criminalisation of sex purchasers, described the announcement as “really, really welcome”.
According to the Immigrant Council of Ireland, a recent check of escort sites on a weekday morning found 38 women for sale in Mayo, with most claiming to be based in Castlebar, while Westport and Ballina also feature on the sites.
Cllr Ruane said there is no doubt there is a thriving sex industry in the county, which is having a devastating impact on the lives of the women and girls involved.
“I have worked with very vulnerable people and I firmly believe the only deterrant [to purchasing sexual services] is the threat of public exposure,” said Cllr Ruane.
Cllr Ruane said the stereotypical image of a lonely, isolated, man as the primary category of sex purchaser is a far cry from the reality.
“Research has shown the majority of those who purchase sex are married, in relationships, many are the pillars of society,” she said.
“The biggest threat to them would be public exposure if they are caught, their name going into the paper, and having a criminal record.”
Cllr Ruane rejected the argument that criminalising sex purchasers further endangers women in the industry by pushing them deeper underground.
“Very few women choose this. Many are forced into it through trafficking, poverty, or destitution,” she said. “The challenge would be to put resources in place to provide protection and support for women who exit prostitution.”
The Immigrant Council of Ireland described the Government's moves towards criminalising sex purchasers as a "red letter day".
"Our work will go on until we see the laws become reality,” added a spokesperson.