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Prostitution in Ireland is legal. However, since March , it has been an offence to buy sex. Most prostitution in Ireland occurs indoors and is advertised via the Internet. Street prostitution has declined considerably. Prostitution was both highly visible and pervasive in 18th-century Dublin , centred on Temple Bar and reflected the whole spectrum of socioeconomic class , from street prostitutes, through organised brothels to high class courtesans, who were often illegitimate daughters of the upper class.
A well known example was Margaret Leeson. The role of the prostitute in 18th-century Ireland was at least partly a product of the double standard of female sexuality. Typical of this was the way that venereal disease was constructed as being spread by prostitutes rather than their largely male clients.
Irish prostitutes were frequently the victims of violence against women. These provided shelter but in return expected menial labour and penitence. The changing nature of Irish society following the Act of Union saw a redefining of the status of women, with an idealisation of nuns at one extreme and a marginalisation of prostitutes at the other. Yet it was estimated that there were 17, women working as prostitutes in Dublin alone, and a further 8 brothels in Cork.
Dublin's sex trade was largely centred on the Monto district, reputedly the largest red light district in Europe. As in many other countries opposition to the Acts, provided a rallying cry for emerging women's movements. Anna Haslam in Dublin and Isabella Tod in Belfast, both of the Ladies National Association , organised opposition and a recognition not only of the plight of these women but also of the root causes.
Emerging nationalism tended to see prostitution and venereal disease as legacies of colonialism that could be resolved through independence. This movement became linked to Catholic conservatism which demanded social purification of the pure Irish soul. Thus the s saw the decline of Monto , as the Legion of Mary founded and led by Frank Duff successfully crusaded to close down the brothels of Monto and bring religion to the area. Prostitution continued to exist in the form of individual women selling sexual services on the streets in cities, but it was a long time before organised prostitution was seen again.