It’s always a little difficult for an Englishman, even one with an extra Irish citizenship (as your author does), to criticise an Irishman for being stupid. That century or more of their being the butt of bad jokes about imbecility creates a certain sensitivity to such an accusation. But this is still flat out a stupid thing to be doing:
Paying for sex is to be banned in Northern Ireland after members at the Stormont assembly members backed the move in a landmark late-night vote.
The proposal to outlaw purchasing sex is among a number of clauses contained in a bill aimed at amending Northern Ireland’s laws on trafficking and prostitution.
Paid-for consensual sex is currently legal in Northern Ireland though activities such as kerb crawling, brothel keeping and pimping are against the law. The proposed ban is similar to the model operating in Sweden.
The human trafficking and exploitation bill was tabled before the assembly by Democratic Unionist peer Lord Morrow.
Trafficking and exploitation are already illegal: making voluntary transactions between consenting adults illegal will not make their incidence any less. Far from it, driving currently legal activity underground will produce more of those already illegal activities rather than less.
At the grander level this is horribly illiberal: the touchstone of any possible liberal society being that consenting adults, when their activities do not harm any non-consenting people, animals or things, get to do what they want. A society that decides to regulate adult sexual activity is not and cannot be described as liberal. It can be anything from Puritan to authoritarian but liberal it cannot be. And we’ve made hugely welcome strides in the direction of that liberality over the decades: for example, from the illegality of homosexual activity to the widespread acceptance societally of same sex civil partnerships. Plus, of course, the more general idea that what people do in their sex lives is up to them. Quite why anyone thinks that the intercession of a £50 note into the proceedings makes any difference is extremely difficult to fathom. It’s still the entirely voluntary playing out of the Tab A and Slot B scenario that we all agree consenting adults are entirely at liberty to perform as they wish.
At the more detailed public policy level there will obviously now be calls that England should follow suit. To which the correct answer is, as above, no it shouldn’t. But even if you don’t find a defence of adults being allowed to be adults convincing there is another. Which is that we really should take advantage of this devolved administration stuff to wait and see what happens. It’ll take a few years for this change in the law to filter through to human behaviour. Time which could usefully be spent actually looking at what happens. Only after we’ve done that will we know what does actually happen: and only once we do know what happens that’s the first time that we can or could usefully discuss whether it’s a good idea or not.
It’s definitional that of course consenting adults should be allowed to consent. But even if you don’t believe that let’s wait and see what actually happens here, eh?