As the Government prepares to finally launch its public consultation on criminalising users of prostitutes, experts have warned it may already be too late as Ireland is set to become a haven for traffickers.

With Scotland set to become the latest country to prosecute the punter, the fear is that even greater numbers of prostitutes — and traffickers — may be driven here.

Denise Charlton of the Immigrant Council of Ireland said: “With Scotland joining the list of countries introducing new laws there is a real danger that Ireland could become a safe haven for traffickers, pimps, and others who have no regard for human rights.”

The Immigrant Council of Ireland is one of an alliance of 50 civil society organisations demanding that Ireland makes paying for sex a crime and changes the way it deals with the victims of sex trafficking.

All the political parties have signed up to the “Turn off the Red Light” campaign except for Sinn Féin, because some of its members argue prostitution should be legalised instead.

In October, Alan Shatter, the justice minister, announced a public consultation on the criminalisation of users of prostitutes. The Government had been under pressure from anti-prostitution and human trafficking campaigners to introduce the Swedish model.

In 1999, the Scandinavian country became the first in the world to introduce legislation criminalising the purchase of sex but decriminalising the sale. The consultation has not yet taken place, though it is believed details will be announced very shortly.

“We want an opportunity to debate the issues and show people there should be no legal, administrative or technical reason used to allow women and young people to be sexually abused and forced to work under constant danger of threats, abuse and violence in communities across Ireland,” said Ms Charlton.

There are no firm figures for the number of people trafficked into Ireland and NGOs believe the numbers referred to gardaí are just the tip of the iceberg.

There were 57 alleged victims of human trafficking — including 13 children — reported to gardaí in 2011. Of those, 37 were victims of sexual exploitation, two were victims of both labour and sexual exploitation, and five were victims of “uncategorised exploitation”, according to the Annual Report of Trafficking in Human Beings compiled by the Department of Justice.

All but nine of the 57 were women, and women also made up all but four of the victims of sexual exploitation. Of the 13 children trafficked, eight were for sexual purposes.

Worldwide about 21 million people, including 5.5m children, are forced into sex or labour.