The buyers of sex rather than its sellers should be targeted in an effort to end the demand for prostitution and sex trafficking, a group of Irish charities and organisations have told the Justice Minister.
More than 20 organisations have written an open letter to Frances Fitzgerald urging her to target sex buyers, following her assertion that she was considering measures to reduce demand for prostitution.
In the letter, the campaigners said it was clear that organised crime gangs, both foreign and domestic, run prostitution here.
Recent figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) estimated that prostitution is part of a €1.2bn a year criminal racket.
"As Europe prepares to mark Anti-Human Trafficking Day on October 18, we are encouraging you to use the new Sexual Offences Bill, due for publication before Christmas, to bring in a range of laws which will end demand for prostitution and human trafficking," the letter said.
"Laws targeting the buyers of sex, which are a reality in several Nordic countries as well as major US cities, have in the past 12 months also secured backing in the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the French National Assembly and most recently the House of Commons in Canada.
"Here 72 organisations and thousands of individuals support our campaign and are looking to you to show political leadership and send out the strongest possible signal that Ireland is no longer a soft target for pimps, traffickers and thugs."
The Turn Off The Red Light campaign includes representatives from Barnardos, the Rape Crisis Centre, Act to Prevent Trafficking, Ruhama, One In Four, the Immigrant Council of Ireland and Women's Aid.
A long-running campaign to end prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland is being overseen by an alliance of civil organisations.
The campaigners have branded the trafficking of women and girls for the purposes of sexual exploitation as a modern, global form of slavery.
"At the moment, buying sex is not illegal in Ireland. Neither is selling sexual services. The law protects these transactions as agreements between consenting adults," said Denise Charlton, chief executive of Turn Off The Red Light.
"Some activities associated with prostitution are outlawed, however, as public order offences. These include kerb-crawling, soliciting in public, loitering in public places, brothel-keeping and living off immoral earnings.
"In 2008 it became illegal to buy sex from someone who had been trafficked, and the law provides for penalties for people who buy sex from a 'trafficked person'.
"However, a 'trafficked person' is defined as 'a person in respect of whom a trafficking crime has been committed'.
"This may be interpreted as requiring a conviction for the trafficking offence before somebody could be prosecuted for buying sex from them."