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Dublin Report Dublin’s seamy underbelly shows its staying power

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

Even as the people of Northern Ireland go to the polls to help to lay the foundations for new political structures on this entire island, the seamier underworld of Irish life has surfaced yet again. The Celtic Tiger, it seems, stalks through a perilously steamy jungle indeed.

Even as a 16 year-old is convicted for killing the husband of a woman who befriended her, blowing off the top of his head with a single shotgun blast at close range when she was still only 15, Dublin police found the body of 21-year-old prostitute, Sinead Kelly, on the bank of the Grand Canal in the south city.

She had been savagely hacked to death, stabbed repeatedly, near the upscale Ballsbridge area. The canal bank is rich in vegetation near Herbert Bridge, where her body was found. Dense bushes abound. It is an excellent hiding place. Several “clients,” intent on picking up prostitutes, have been robbed by drug-crazed pimps, inevitably armed with syringes. Naturally, the victims are reluctant to report the crime to police.

Since so many are also married, they realize that it might be difficult to explain in the light of any further publicity. They are easy prey. And the pimps, along with the girls, know it.

Generally, the pimps are the husbands or the live-in boyfriends of the girls who work the neighborhood. Usually they are drug addicts, most often on heroin. Some years ago, a prostitute confessed that she was one of seven plying the street along the north wall of the River Liffey. She admitted that four of them were HIV positive.

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It has been estimated by the various organizations involved in attempting to clear up the trade that as many as one in five Dublin prostitutes are addicts. In all, about 700 ply the trade in the city center, the majority of them on the streets.

They have been doing it for many years, of course, defying the police and confusing the social workers. In latter times, it has become more dangerous. It has also led to something of a generation war.

Young prostitutes, often no more than 20, their boyfriends and pimps with syringes, which may, or may not, threaten AIDS, have driven away many regular ‘customers’ from the canal bank. The older girls, many married with young families, desperately in need of supplementary income, don’t like this, of course. There is considerable enmity on both sides.

It can get nasty indeed, especially since the booming tourist trade and thriving economy have attracted so many cross-channel hookers with their extremely violent minders into the Dublin pool. The day before Sinead Kelly was murdered, another prostitute was beaten with an iron bar. Both of her arms were broken.

From the start of the summer season, there have been several vicious attacks on women in the area. Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because she was a reliable source of information, police spoke to Kelly, a native of Santry on the north side of the city, just 30 minutes before she was killed. In fact, her screams, reported by residents, drew them to the scene shortly after the killing.

Prostitution is nothing new in Dublin. During and after the Boer War, at the turn of the century, with a large garrison of British soldiers, most of them Irish-born members of the Dublin Fusiliers, stationed in the city, its red light district, immortalized in James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” gained some considerable international infamy.

There were then many brothels. In modern times, as national prosperity increases, there as now much more “in-house” service available again. Because these reduce risk and take the girls off the street, some leaders of public opinion are now suggesting that prostitution should be legalized and even institutionalized on much the same lines, as in Holland and parts of Germany, most notably, Hamburg, where brothels are State supervised.

One lawyer, who has represented prostitutes in court, has gone on record favoring such a development.

Incidentally, in this respect, not even the houses are always safe. One unsolved murder on the police-file list concerns the brutal slaying of English-born prostitute of Malaysian extraction in a city center luxury flat. Owned by London pimps, it was used as a brothel. The residents in neighboring apartments were unaware of its true function.

Some of the older brothels continued to function well into the early 1960s when, presumably, increasing permissiveness made them less necessary. Some were converted into legitimate businesses.

One such was Dolly Fossett’s, on the corner of Bolton and Capel Streets. Ostensibly an innocent late-night cafT, which indeed it also was, it was a haven for students, usually carrying clandestine “Baby Powers,” or miniature bottles of whiskey, which they tipped into their cups of coffee.

Tired taxi drivers who had worked beyond public house closing time, then as early as 11 p.m, also favored it. Naturally, there were also the ladies of the night, who were often picked up by clients there. It was not so much a brothel as a meeting place.

The most formidable opponent of prostitution throughout the early years of the century was the Legion of Mary, led by the remarkable and saintly Frank Duff. Long before the development of adequate social services and the employment of counselors within the Department of Health, Duff and his legion of volunteers combated the worst features of the dangerous trade. They encouraged women who were often alcoholic to get off the streets. And they fought a continued battle against their pimps, who were often murderously brutal.

Those who fought the good fight, most now in their late middle age, must wonder just where modern Ireland is going – or even how it became what it is.

Certainly, one man who would be extremely disturbed by such vicious trends in contemporary Irish society is the late Paul O’Dwyer, whose death occurred last week.

The New York lawyer was a man who ably represented the interests of a generation of Irish people, apparently much different to those who are enjoying the sometimes dubious pleasures of the kingdom of the Celtic Tiger.

May he rest in the peace that he always cherished for all of his people.

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