Business Irish

Saturday 17 March 2018

Drugs and sex trade to give revenue major boost

Brussels orders 'illegal production' be included in economic activity

The EU has ordered the Government to include prostitution in the tally of annual spending
The EU has ordered the Government to include prostitution in the tally of annual spending
Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

The country's official revenue figures should be boosted by as much as half-a-billion euro as a result of a new EU directive to include prostitution and illegal drugs in annual spending.

There are currently no official estimates of revenue from drugs and sex work, but government officials will have to produce figures after Brussels directed last week that "production forbidden by law" be included in each EU state's economic activity.

Gardai roughly estimate that there are 2,000 people working in the sex trade here. The biggest sex work website, Escorts Ireland, which is based in London, was yesterday carrying adverts for 754 men, women and transsexuals.

Added to this would be the greater number of people taking advantage of free websites such as Gumtree, Adoos, Vivastreet and Locanto and surreptitiously advertising sexual services on them.

A survey carried out last year by the group that helps with the safety of sex workers, Ugly Mugs, showed the average number of clients seen per week is around 15. With average payment for a sexual service of around €70, this suggests an income of just over €1,000 per week. The annualised income this generates, given the garda estimate of 2,000 workers overall, is around €109m.

Groups like Ugly Mugs, under which sex workers exchange information about criminal and deviant behaviour of clients, have long called for legalisation of prostitution to allow workers to pay taxes and benefit from social protection.

This is opposed by most political parties and the powerful anti-prostitution lobby under the umbrella Turn off the Red Light.

As the majority of sex workers – estimated around 90 per cent – are foreign, a large amount of the profit after accommodation, food and transport is probably going abroad.

Figures for drugs can also be extrapolated, given research and experience in other countries.

The US state of Colorado, with a population similar to the Republic's, legalised marijuana last year and revenue figures from January this year show that about $130m (€95m) is being generated in sales. This will provide Colorado with tax income of an estimated $40m, which is to be spent on health and education.

Marijuana is by far the most common illegal drug in Ireland, having been criminalised in the 1977 Misuse of Drugs Act. Gardai estimate that 90 per cent of drug arrests and charges relate to simple marijuana possession.

The criminalisation of drugs has resulted in Ireland evolving a major criminal infrastructure, which is costing the State hundreds of millions a year in justice and health spending, and almost all of the profits leave the country.

It has also directly led to more than 200 murders in the past decade.

The Republic is now following both Britain and Italy, which are already adding illegal activity to their national figures for economic activity.

Last week, the CSO confirmed that it had begun estimating income for the Brussels-directed "production forbidden by law, eg, prostitution and production of drugs" and, as a result, its figures to the end of June this year will be higher than last year's.

The CSO has begun talks with gardai, as well as Brussels and other countries, in order to estimate how best to quantify the levels of activity in these areas.

Sunday Independent

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