Monday 24 October 2016

Carol Hunt: It isn't the 1950s but we must licence sex shops and strip clubs

Sex shop protest in Drumcondra
Sex shop protest in Drumcondra

Obviously I lead a very sheltered life.

Despite the fact that I have visited quite a few city centre pubs in my day, I have never yet been in one that sells sex devices which go over a certain part of the male anatomy. 

Or 'c**k-rings', as Robert Doyle, owner of an adult shop in Kilkenny, described them. He's insisting that "most pubs have vending machines" that sell such items.

Who knew? Not me, anyway. In addition, Mr Doyle tells us that "you can go into Boots and buy a mini-vibrator", an omission I must surely rectify when next I stock up on Calpol and hair gel.

Doyle is currently arguing against regulation of sex shops. He and his business partner, Richie Cullen, had a bit of a setback recently when their planned sex shop in Drumcondra failed to open because of protests from locals.


Not that all of the residents of that Dublin suburb are in any way prudish or anti sex - they just didn't like the fact that this sex shop was opening not 50 metres from a national school.

Who can blame them? As a parent of two young children I certainly don't. I remember the relief I felt when the infamous Stringfellows on Parnell Street closed down - I no longer had to drag my kids past it whenever we visited the cinema.

But the only reason the sex shop in Drumcondra didn't open was because the people kicked up about it. Legally, anybody could turn a local shop into a tacky, stripper-flashing, get-your-rocks-off-here emporium - and they'd be perfectly entitled to do so.

Currently any shop with retail planning permission can become a sex shop and any club with a dance and bar license can become a lap-dancing club. The Government has still not decided whether or not to regulate such outlets.

Why not? Well, the (wonderfully named) Adult Entertainment Task Force recommended back in 2009 that a licensing system for sex establishments under an independent regulator should be included in casino regulations being planned at the time for the gambling sector.

But the Department of Justice said that "gaming such as roulette and blackjack should not be associated with the sale of "sex articles", stimulating sexual activity or encouraging acts of restraint." Oh la la.

Junior Minister Paudie Coffey recently stated that it was "unclear" whether adult shops need to be treated any differently than other shops under planning laws. Really?

Meanwhile, the Irish Association of Adult Shops has suggested that sex shops should be licensed and that they should be banned within 800 metres of a school, hospital or place of worship.

Surely we need some joined-up-thinking here? We live in a secular democracy and if you want to frequent sex shops or lap-dancing clubs that's your own business. Who wants to go back to the 1950s?

But in the same way as parents like me hate our daughters being faced with sexist lads' magazines when they go to the local shop, we also don't want them to have to pass sex shops on the way to school.

I know that many of our kids have seen far more of 'this-sort-of-stuff' than their parents could ever have imagined, due to it being available online at the touch of a button.

But that's different. Parents can regulate access to sex sites online. Kids know that what they're looking up is illicit. But having children pass sex shops on the way to school is both irresponsible and disrespectful.

However, the most important argument against having sex shops or lap-dancing clubs in popular public areas is that they're just so bloody tacky. Look at O'Connell Street. There aren't any lap-dancing clubs on it (yet) but there's the uber-tacky Ann Summers right across from the GPO. And there's all those awful burger joints.

The street is a national disgrace. No wonder people avoided Clerys when that's the visage that faced them on exiting the department store.

Our cities and towns are where we - adults and children - live. It's where our valuable tourists visit. This issue is too important to be left to the protests of locals.

The Government need to do what they're paid to do and regulate the retail sex industry.

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