Donlon critical of embassy closure

 

The former secretary general at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Seán Donlon, has criticised the Government’s decision to close Ireland’s embassy at the Vatican.

He said the deterioration in relations between Ireland and the Holy See in the wake of recent clerical child abuse revelations made the diplomatic mission more rather than less important.

Mr Donlon, once Ireland’s most senior diplomat and a former ambassador to the US, said the State did not close its embassy in London at any time during the Troubles even when diplomatic relations with Britain soured in the aftermath of Blood Sunday.

“I don’t believe that at times of difficult relationships; that is not the time to reduce the level of representation; that, in fact, is a time when diplomacy comes into its own.”

The decision to close the embassy, one of the Republic’s oldest diplomatic missions, was announced last November by Minister for Foreign Affaris Eamon Gilmore as part of cost-cutting review of the State’s overseas missions.

“Relations between Ireland and the Holy See are definitely going through a rough patch,” Mr Donlon told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme today.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s trenchant criticism of the Vatican following the publication of the Cloyne report had represented a move from “normal diplomacy to megaphone diplomacy”, he said.

Mr Donlon said the criticism had “probably been a good thing, because it shook up people at the Holy See”.

However, he said it was now time to begin the process of “normalising the relationship” as there were quite a number of issues to be dealt with in the fields of education, health and child sex abuse.

While the decision to shut the embassy was unlikely to matter much initially, he said, the move “if it allowed to continue” could damage relations in the longer term.

While shutting the embassy was unlikely to change much initially, he said, it would damage relations between Ireland and the Holy See in the longer term.

“On top of the bilateral issues, we have had quite useful co-operation with the Holy See on all sorts of the international questions, including human rights, climate change and Middle East.”

Mr Donlon rejected the Government’s argument that it was too costly to operate separate diplomatic missions in one city, citing Ireland’s reluctance in 1970s and 80s to allow other countries cover their diplomatic missions here via their London embassies.

“We felt it was inappropriate to have somebody looking at Ireland through British eyes so that precedent is well established in international diplomacy.”

However, he said there was merit in a recent suggestion by Mr Gilmore that both diplomatic missions might be run from the same building in Rome in order to save costs.

The decision to shut the State’s embassy to the Holy See was made in conjunction with a decision to close Ireland’s diplomatic mission to Iran and its representative office in Timor Leste, which is estimated to save the State €1.17 million annually.