France has criminalised the purchase of sex - what happened to Ireland's sex laws?

The legislation was not enacted before the previous Dáil was dissolved.

AS FRANCE BECAME the newest jurisdiction to criminalise the purchase of sex, Ireland’s current laws and proposed changes were brought into fresh focus.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 aimed to do just that and more and was passed through the Seanad during the previous Dáil but was never enacted.

The bill was not passed by the previous Dáil before it was dissolved and proponents and opponents of Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald’s plans have used the latest news as an opportunity to press their cases once more.

As well as criminalising the purchase of sex, the Irish bill also includes new offences relating to the sexual exploitation of children, including paying for the purpose of sexually exploiting a child and sexual activity in the presence of a minor.

There was an expectation that the bill would be passed by the Dáil as the house passed a raft of last-minute bills earlier this year, but this did not happen.

The sex workers’ standpoint

Kate McGrew of Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, which opposes criminalisation, says the bill was not passed because of a late increase in opposition to its proposals.

There were enough members in the Seanad and the Dáil who gave evidence of the detrimental effects of criminalisation for so long that it wasn’t able to progress, because there was too many questions over this legislation. Too much evidence that it infringes on the human rights and health and safety of sex workers.

Despite the claim that there was an upswell of opposition to the proposals, the bill received broad political support with Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin among those lending opposition support.

The recommendation to criminalise the purchase of sex had also come from the Oireachtas Justice Committee which had investigated Ireland’s prostitution laws.

Pro-bill group Ruhama’s standpoint

Ruhama is an Irish charity which works with women who seek to leave prostitution or who have been affected by sex trafficking.

Given the apparent political will to pass the legislation, Ruhama has said France’s move should act as an example to Irish politicians.

CEO Sarah Benson says that France’s vote shows that Europe is increasingly looking towards the criminalisation of demand as a way of tackling exploitation and that Ireland needs to follow suit:

We continue to call on our TDs to complete the passage of this bill as a matter of priority as soon as the new government is formed. This bill has unprecedented cross-party support and will be a vital tool in combating many forms of sexual exploitation, including prostitution and sex trafficking.

Benson says it was “just a matter of timing” that the bill was not passed and Ruhama expects that it would be one of the first pieces of legislation to be enacted whenever a new government is formed.

Read: Ireland’s ban on the purchase of sex will be challenged by a sex worker >

Read: Investigation details systematic movement of prostitutes around Ireland’s towns >

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