Leah Farrell/

"Not all people in prostitution are exploited" - John Halligan defends stance on legalising sex work

The junior minister was expanding upon comments he made in a recent Hot Press interview.

JUNIOR MINISTER JOHN Halligan has spoken out about his support for the legalisation of prostitution and said that he would break the law in order to assist someone to die by suicide.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke, Halligan said that he didn’t support laws that would see people criminalised for buying sex.

Halligan was speaking after a wide-ranging interview he gave in Hot Press magazine where he said that not legalising prostitution would be “cruel”.

“My fear is this, that this will drive [prostitution] further underground,” he said.

“Not all people in prostitution are exploited.

They want it regulated, they want it monitored, they want health checks, they want to pay their tax and PRSI, they want it unionised.

Halligan said that many people would call buying sex “an arrangement between two consenting adults” and that in that sense it should not be made illegal.

“It’s probably against the moral code, it’s probably against the religious code,” he said.

But are we seriously saying that we are saying to consenting adults… on that basis because someone is paying… that this is a criminal offence. Why?

He said that gardaí would be forced to constantly monitor brothels in order to catch people “engaged in the act” and that it would be a waste of Garda resources.

The junior minister also said that trafficking of women into prostitution was a big issue, and that Garda resources would be better spent tackling this head on.

17/12/2015. Sex Workers Vigils Kate McGrew of the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) holding a candlelight vigil outside Leinster House earlier in the year. Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

“Why do we not send the gardaí down to ports, airports to monitor women that might be trafficked into prostitution,” he said.


Also speaking on the show, Sarah Benson, chief executive of Ruhama, took a different stance to that of Halligan.

Ruhama is an Irish support and advocacy organisation by women affected by prostitution and sexual exploitation. It worked with about 300 women last year.

22/4/2015. Sex Trafficing Launch Sarah Benson. /Photocall Ireland /Photocall Ireland

Benson said that buying sex should be made illegal, and that methods of legislating for prostitution in other countries had failed.

“The sex trade is one that does not constitute normal work,” she said.

Regulation has been tried, it was a laudable effort, but it has absolutely categorically failed to help or assist or reduce the instances of trafficking or exploitation.

Benson said that in places like Germany and the Netherlands a “parallel” underground sex trade exists next to the legal one.

She said women in brothels are not being supported and end up being exploited and not making money, whereas the brothel owners become legitimised.

Benson said that people selling sex should not be criminalised, but those buying it should.

“The fact is this doesn’t happen without demand,” she said.

And I do take issue with predicating the rights of a lonely man to buy sex over a person who may or may not be trafficked.

Halligan said that he agreed that women being trafficked into prostitution should be helped, but that targeting consenting adults was wrong.

Assisted suicide 

Halligan also spoke about a bill he was planning to introduce to the Dáil in order to legislate for assisted suicide, saying that he would break the law in order to assist a friend to die if the person asked.

“I myself have it in my will that if I am diagnosed with a terminal cancer or some disease that will inevitably kill me I don’t want to inflict suffering on my family or my friends,” he said.

He also said that if a friend came to him, he would help him to die. When asked if he would break the law, Halligan said:

I think I would. There have been some very close friends of mine… if one one of them came to me [and asked for help]… I think I would probably help them, yes.

“I think even by saying this to you it’s illegal for me to do that,” he said.

But what the heck I believe in it.

Read: John Halligan: ‘If I could bring in legislation to goddamn jail landlords, I would jail the bastards’

Read: Dissent in the ranks: ‘We gave our points of view, they gave theirs – but there was no agreement’

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