Former US president Jimmy Carter has written to every TD and Senator in the Republic of Ireland urging them to act on proposed laws to criminalise people who pay for sex.
In a letter last week, Mr Carter warned it had been a year since a parliamentary committee called for the radical rewrite of vice laws to target the buyer rather than the prostitute.
The human rights campaigner described the proposed legislation as a transformative approach to ending exploitation, abuse and trafficking of women and girls.
Mr Carter said: “There is little doubt that public exposure in a trial and the imposition of a fine or jail time for a few men who are prominent citizens or police officers who were buying or profiting from the sex trade would prove to be an extremely effective deterrent.
“Prostitution is inherently violent towards women and girls, and I support efforts to help those who are trapped in this industry.
“I hope that you will lead your nation towards the protection of prostituted women and girls with a sense of urgency.”
The letter was sent to all members of the Oireachtas, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
Mr Carter said the limited progress towards criminalising the buyers of sex in Ireland was significant and would help bring long-term funding for exit programmes to assist prostitutes to escape exploitation.
He said the reform would also help develop awareness to promote the equality of women and reveal the violence, inequality and coercion in the vice trade.
Mr Carter, a member of the Elders group of human rights activists brought together by the late Nelson Mandela in 2007, said he was particularly encouraged by the unanimous political support for the changes.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland, which has led the Turn of the Red Light campaign to bring 70 organisations together to pressure politicians for new laws on prostitution, briefed the former US president on the issue.
Denise Charlton, chief executive of the Immigrant Council, said: “This contribution by a global figure who enjoys international respect again shows the importance of the debate which has taken place here in Ireland and the need for urgent political leadership to bring this issue to a conclusion.”
The Immigrant Council is finalising draft laws for the justice committee, which would make the buying of sex illegal with fines of 500-3,000 euro and possible imprisonment for repeat offenders.
The organisation said similar reforms are expected to be enforced in Canada before Christmas following the example first set by Sweden.
In Northern Ireland, the DUP’s Lord Morrow has proposed a bill which would, if passed, criminalise men who buy sex.