TRADERS whose businesses were affected by prostitutes soliciting for clients near their premises claim a garda crackdown on kerb-crawlers has virtually wiped out the problem.
Last month, 21 men appeared before Limerick District Court, where they admitted propositioning undercover gardai posing as prostitutes near Limerick city centre.
Gardai were forced to target the clients of prostitutes after secondary-school girls waiting for lifts home were approached by men seeking to buy sex. The students were targeted by men who believed that they were prostitutes and were not aware they were pupils.
There are many businesses in the affected area and numerous members of the business community complained to gardai that the prostitutes and their clients were greatly affecting business in the area.
Shane Gleeson of Gleeson's Newsagent has worked in the area for 35 years.
"Without doubt, this was the biggest single issue we ever encountered. It was greatly affecting business -- people could not go about their business without encountering it. It was happening right in front of us," Mr Gleeson said.
"However, since the garda operation the problem has more or less been eliminated. We don't ever want to see it here again," he said.
"We noticed over the last two weeks that the vast majority of girls who had been working at this have left the area. Some of them came into the shop with their bags and baggage at the time and said they were on the way to the train station," Mr Gleeson added.
Mr Gleeson praised the continued garda efforts to combat prostitution. "There is CCTV all over these areas now and you can see the cameras turning if a car pulls up to anyone. They can read a car-registration plate very clearly so the guards are doing a fantastic job," Mr Gleeson said.
Supt Frank O'Brien of Henry Street garda station said: "'Operation Freewheel' is continuing into the New Year. Like all other garda operations, we will review the situation as it is ongoing and determine what approach there needs to be."
The 21 men who pleaded guilty to soliciting or importuning female garda officers will be sentenced in March.
All offences took place in the Barrington Street, Catherine Street and Mallow Street areas of Limerick city. Another six cases have yet to be heard.