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IT IS home to boutiques, bars and restaurants offering culinary delights from around the world. A little coffee culture haven sits at one end while the other is occupied by doctors, dentists, solicitors and professionals. Since , young women have occupied street corners with peering eyes behind doors and blinds watching their every move.
Down Catherine Street, two young women are sitting on a step in the doorway of an old Georgian building. But this picture of urban life is disturbed when two uniformed gardai approach and the women scurry. They found 18 Romanian women and a number of men, some of them their husbands, inside the house. This was a brothel. Interpol intelligence has established the routes taken and methods used to get these women into Ireland. Inside the building, however, there is one woman who controls the operation.
She is a married mother of three but her marital status is far from conventional. She runs one of the more lucrative prostitution operations in Limerick city centre while her husband, who is based in Romania, brings the girls to Ireland. The services provided by women working as prostitutes in Limerick are advertised on an escort website where they occupy the site with up to 50 other women offering sex for sale in Limerick. The sex industry in Limerick went through a major crisis in recent times when some of the street prostitutes offered sex without condoms.
The baby girl born six months ago was put into care shortly after her birth and remains under the care of the health executive. Gardai are also monitoring the activities of another Romanian girl working in Limerick who is believed to be four months pregnant. More than 40 brothels have been raided or closed in the last number of years and one high-profile figure is currently before the courts having operated and lived off the profits of prostitution in Limerick.
According to garda intelligence, women soliciting for the purpose of prostitution, as well as the running of organised brothels, hit an all-time high in Limerick in when the city accounted for over 30 per cent of the convictions recorded in Ireland. The Garda response has always been in the public focus with varied opinions as to the level of success with their actions. With teenagers and young women arriving from Brazil, Portugal and Romania as well as other parts of Eastern Europe, the newcomers live in apartments and some even stay for long periods in hotels, despite having no visible source of income.