Pimps and prostitutes are moving into the border counties of the Irish Republic as a crackdown on the sex trade in Northern Ireland comes into force, campaigners have warned.
There has been more than a 50 per cent rise in online sex trade activity in counties Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim and Louth in recent weeks, according to a study by the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI).
Laws making it a crime for anyone to pay for sex came into force in Northern Ireland on Monday after it became the first region in the UK to back a ban late last year.
Brian Killoran, chief executive of the ICI, said the border counties now face being used as a “safe haven” for sex traders in the absence of a similar ban by the Dublin government.
“The initial indications are that those who run prostitution have been feeling the heat of Northern Ireland’s new laws even before they came into force and have been switching their operations to the south,” he said.
Under the Northern Ireland legislation, anyone caught paying for sex faces up to a year in prison and a fine of £1,000.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland says profiles on escort agency websites linked to counties just over the border have soared in the four weeks leading up to the new law.
In Louth, there were 25 escorts advertising their services at the end of May compared to 18 at the beginning of the month. Numbers were up from 14 to 24 in Donegal, from two to nine in Leitrim and from 13 to 15 in Cavan.
Denise Charlton, anti-trafficking consultant with the ICI, said the overall 51 per cent increase is a clear trend of prostitution moving over the border.
“Now the law is a reality we expect to see this to increase even more,” she said.
“This is in line with international experience where successful laws in Sweden and major cities in the United States have pushed prostitution and organised crime into neighbouring jurisdictions.
“We need an all-island approach to put pimps out of business.”
The Immigrant Council is one of 72 organisations campaigning for sex buyer laws in the Republic. Proponents argue it will tackle human trafficking but critics say it will only drive prostitution further underground.
Mr Killoran has urged the Garda to monitor the increase in online sex trade activity.
“It is also essential that the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, honour her commitment to publish sex buyer laws here and that we join Northern Ireland, the US, Canada and Sweden in shutting down the organised crime behind prostitution,” he added.