17 January 2006

Call for new laws on prostitution


New legislation is needed in Northern Ireland to deal effectively with street prostitution, the police have said.

The comments were made to residents from Belfast city centre during a public meeting at the city hall.

Dozens of people who live in new apartment blocks near Linenhall Street voiced their concerns to police and councillors.

The meeting was told there were about 50 brothels in Belfast. Some of NI laws on kerb crawling are 150 years old.

Detective Inspector Jeff Smyth said: "What has emerged and what has been highlighted in tonight's meeting is that there seems to be a gap in legislation," he said.

"Currently, we deal with legislation which is 150 years old.

"Our colleagues in police services elsewhere in the United Kingdom, in mainland England and Wales, have a more updated legislation specifically designed against kerb crawlers."

People living in the city centre said prostitutes and kerb crawlers operated in the area seven nights a week.

Business people were also unhappy at the situation. Peter Brown, the manager of a gym in the area, said it was affecting his staff and customers.

"We have got male members who are getting propositioned by the prostitutes," he said.

"Likewise, my female members leaving the club and cars (are) stopping when they are trying to cross the road.

"My female staff on their breaks are getting propositioned by people stopping in their cars."

One local resident, who did not wish to be identified, accused the authorities of ignoring the problem.

"The most annoying thing about it is the feeling that you have to put up with this, week in week out, year in year out and that the police will turn a blind eye to it," he said.

On Tuesday, the UK government will announce a new crackdown on prostitution in England and Wales, getting tougher on men who buy sex, and helping women get off the streets.

Belfast residents want the same tactics used in Northern Ireland

But Belfast City Council also came under pressure to act.

Pat McCarthy of the SDLP said: "These women flaunt it so openly in your face, they don't seem to fear anything.

"I would call upon the government to extend the legislation covering kerb crawling into Northern Ireland to give the police something to work on."

Esmond Birnie, Ulster Unionist, said it was very important to have a groundswell of public opinion to bring about a change in the law.

"The law should be changed to bring it into line with England to make kerb crawling an offence," he said.

The police said they needed more people to come forward with complaints so they could use other legislation to prosecute.

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