Check against delivery
Dublin City Hall
Wednesday 8 March 2016
Address by Tánaiste and Minister for Justice & Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, TD
I would like to thank Denise, Sr Stan and all at the Immigrant Council of Ireland for the invitation to attend this event today. It is fitting that we are here today – on International Women’s Day – to mark legislation which, I firmly believe, will make such a difference in tackling the considerable damage caused, overwhelmingly to women, by prostitution.
I would also like to sincerely acknowledge and thank those who have spoken before me today. In particular, Rachel and Mia, your courage in sharing your experience and using that experience as a voice for others is both humbling and inspiring.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 is the culmination of a long campaign by those in this room and many, many others to fight the abuse and exploitation which is so widely associated with prostitution. Your commitment, drive and fortitude in seeing that campaign through can never be overstated and today is also a day to recognise your resolve.
As everyone in this room knows – and perhaps I am understating this – reforming the law on prostitution was not without its challenges. But I believe the debate over the last number of years – be it through the Turn Off the Red Light Campaign, the review conducted by the Oireachtas Justice Committee, the debate around the framing of the new provisions or the lengthy debates in both Houses of the Oireachtas during the passage of these provisions – reflects what was a committed and sincere engagement with the proposals and I believe the law is stronger for it.
It was also through that debate and discourse that an overwhelming support for the new provisions emerged although that is not to ignore what was also a steadfast, be it a minority, opposition. But to acknowledge, on the one hand, that – even some – women and men involved in prostitution are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse and yet at the same time argue against what this Act seeks to achieve is difficult to understand.
I am absolutely convinced and committed to the approach which has been adopted and enacted and which will see the purchase of sexual services in the context of prostitution criminalised. I am even more so, when you consider how similar laws in other jurisdictions have been found to make those countries less attractive for prostitution based human trafficking.
I also believe that support for targeting the demand for prostitution and criminalising the purchase of sexual services – in particular as a tool to combat trafficking – is strengthening across the EU and further afield.
Regardless of the various approaches which can be taken to prostitution – be it criminalisation, decriminalisation, legalisation and regulation – there will always be those involved in prostitution who live in the shadows. They live under the control and direction of others or of their own personal circumstances. These are incredibly vulnerable people. It is all too easy for those purchasing sex through prostitution to turn a blind eye and to ignore the reality that their behaviour supports the exploitation and misery of other people, including through human trafficking. So we now send a message. If you purchase sexual services through prostitution you are no longer removed from the responsibility for the exploitation of persons through prostitution. You can no longer ignore the consequences of your actions.
I am very pleased that when these provisions are commenced – which will be very shortly – and in line with the growing support for this type of reform, Ireland will be the seventh jurisdiction to introduce laws targeting the purchase while decriminalising those who provide the sexual service. These laws will also ensure that both parts of this island share the determination to tackle the abuse associated with prostitution.
But this is not just about the law. There must be a system of supports for women to exit prostitution and I am committed to providing funding, through my Department, to support those involved in prostitution including assistance with exiting prostitution. In this respect, I would like to acknowledge Sarah Benson who spoke earlier and the considerable work done by Ruhama, including through funding from my Department, in providing support to women involved in prostitution through their street outreach programme and other services.
Before I finish, I mentioned earlier that I intend to commence these provisions shortly and I am happy to say I will be in a position to do so – along with many other aspects of this legislation - in the next fortnight.
I would like to again thank Denise and the Immigrant Council of Ireland for the invitation to be with you today. But more than that I would like to thank everyone here and those not here today who contributed so much to this legislation and who supported it so strongly during its passage and which I believe was reflected in the overwhelming support which these provisions received in both Houses. As much as the long road to introduce these provisions was a collaborative effort so must we continue to work together to effectively implement and enforce these laws and I look forward to that continued cooperation.
This law is about defending human rights. It is about recognising and upholding human rights. We must support and defend the rights of all those abused through prostitution, but even more so we must reduce the risk of today’s young girls and boys being drawn into tomorrow’s prostitution. I repeat the message - we are targeting those who demand these services because it is their behaviour that supports the exploitation of others and that can no longer be ignored.
I am deeply pleased to mark this legislation with you all here today.