Ireland's rape law are to be clarified by new amendments put before cabinet on 24 January. It is to be made explicit that having sex with someone who is asleep is illegal. Amendments to the 2015 Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill will define outright a range of situations in which a person is deemed unable to give their consent to have sex. These include being asleep, unconscious or being heavily intoxicated as a result of drinking too much alcohol.
Extra protections for people with disabilities and children subjected to online grooming would also be added to the bill.
It is in the final stages of being made into Irish law and is expected to be passed by both chambers in forthcoming votes.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald tabled the amendments in response to campaign groups reporting a large number of rape cases brought to trial where the victim was drunk, asleep or unconscious. At present, judges use their own discretion in these cases because of a gap in the law.
A Department of Justice source told the Irish Times the amendments would serve "as a clear reminder to those who would take advantage of persons who, in particular circumstances, are unable to consent.
"The changes that the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill will bring, once enacted, will be far-reaching and will bring additional protections to some of the most vulnerable people in our community."
Campaigners have been advocating changes to rape legislation since 1988. The new bill is regarded as an overdue but comprehensive response to pressures to modernise Ireland's sex-crime laws. In 2015, Ireland legalised same-sex marriage after a referendum that attracted global attention; the Catholic nation approved marriage equality by around two votes to one. Abortion remains largely illegal in Ireland.