Justice minister criticised for toughening brothel-keeping sentences

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has faced criticism over a decision to toughen sentences for brothel-keeping in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill.

A late Government amendment to the bill, tabled before the second stage begins in the Dáil tomorrow, would increase the maximum sentence for the offence from six months to a year, and double the possible fine from €2,500 to €5,000.

The Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) has said the move would punish sex workers who live or work together for safety reasons, The Times reports.

Kate McGrew, spokesperson for the group, said: “If this is the government’s aim to stop prostitution by ending demand, then why are they increasing the penalties and further criminalising workers?”

Dublin solicitor Wendy Lyon, who specialises in sexual, reproductive and maternity rights, added: “The Irish government is claiming it will decriminalise sex workers with this bill, but this isn’t the case.

“I’m very concerned that this new law will make sex workers even more likely to work alone in order to avoid arrest, while those who continue to risk arrest by working together will be even less likely to report any violence they experience.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said: “The offence of brothel-keeping targets any person who keeps or manages a brothel or allows a premises to be used as a brothel.

“It can apply in a wide range of circumstances, including to those involved in organised prostitution, and the range of penalties available reflects the scope of the offence. It is a matter for the courts to determine the appropriate penalty in individual circumstances.”