TWENTY-seven men from across the Mid-West have been charged with soliciting prostitutes in Limerick city, following an operation by undercover female gardai over the past two months.
The men, whose ages range from their 30s to 60s, appeared before Limerick Court this Tuesday morning,
Twenty-one men pleaded guilty to the charge and were fined â‚¬470 each, while a further six men have had their cases adjourned.
The court heard that the men approached two undercover female gardai near Pery Square, Barrington Street, Catherine Street and Mallow Street in the city, as part of Operation Freewheel, on various dates this November and December.
The incidents were being monitored at all times by gardai nearby, who arrested the men and brought them to Henry Street and Roxboro Road garda stations.
Judge Eamon Oâ€™Brien told one defendant who approached the bench seeking legal aid: â€œIf you can afford to pay for a lady of the night you can afford to pay for the services of the second oldest profession in the world, a lawyer.â€ Representing one defendant, solicitor Ted McCarthy said his client referred to the offence as a â€œmistakeâ€ and had no previous convictions.
Mr McCarthy said another client is a middle-aged man in full-time employment, and was â€œsignificantly embarrassedâ€, as he was never before the court previously and is a â€œman of good character.â€
A 63-year-old farmer from county Limerick was among those charged, who said he was â€œextremely remorseful and embarrassedâ€ and also had never come to the attention of gardai before.
Another man who pleaded guilty said: â€œIâ€™m sorry.â€
The majority of the men had no previous convictions, with the exception of minor road traffic offences.
The men were charged under section 7 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences Act, 1993), for soliciting or importuning a person for the purpose of prostitution.
Each were fined â‚¬470 to be paid to Doras Luimni, a local support group for all migrants, by March 13 next.
The group are set to receive up to â‚¬13,000 if the other men are convicted of the offences. A Russian interpreter is required for one of the cases, while a Polish national was also charged.
*For a comprehensive follow-up to this story see the Limerick Leader weekend edition