Closure of Vatican Embassy due to cost, says Gilmore

 

THE GOVERNMENT’S decision to close the Republic’s Embassy in the Vatican was taken on cost grounds and had nothing to do with difficulties over the Cloyne report, Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has said.

Mr Gilmore said it was with “the greatest regret and reluctance” that the Government had decided to shut the State’s Embassies to the Holy See and Iran and its representative office in Timor Leste.

The decision follows a review of overseas missions by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which paid particular attention to the economic return from bilateral missions.

Mr Gilmore noted that while the Embassy in the Holy See was one of the Republic’s oldest diplomatic missions, it yielded no economic return. He said the review of the State’s diplomatic footprint was under way before publication of the Cloyne report. He added that the report and its aftermath in fact underlined the necessity “to have very good and strong diplomatic relations” with the Vatican.

“The Government believes that Ireland’s interests with the Holy See can be sufficiently represented by a non-resident Ambassador,” Mr Gilmore said. “The Government will be seeking the agreement of the Holy See to the appointment of a senior diplomat to this position.”

The Coalition is to propose that the secretary general at the Department of Foreign Affairs act as Ambassador to the Vatican, servicing it from Dublin. In the case of Tehran and Dili, Ambassadors posted in nearby countries will be accredited. Mr Gilmore noted that it was not possible to conduct diplomatic relations with the Vatican from the embassy to Italy: “All missions have to be approved by the receiving country and the Vatican does not permit a joint servicing arrangement.”

The State’s Embassy to Italy will now move into the 17th-century Villa Spada, which has served as the residence of the Ambassador to the Holy See as well as the mission’s offices since 1946. The Government currently rents its Rome embassy.

“Naturally, every state that has diplomatic relations with the Holy See is free to decide, on the basis of her . . . interests, whether to have an ambassador to the Holy See resident in Rome or in another country. What is important is diplomatic relations between the Holy See and states, and these are not in question with regard to Ireland,” the Vatican said.

Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Seán Ó Fearghaíl questioned the level of thought that had gone into the embassy closures. “While there is a nominal saving attached to closing embassies there is also a cost,” he said.

It is understood that closing the three missions will garner savings of more than €1.17 million annually. The Republic has had an Embassy in Tehran since 1976, while it opened a resident mission in Timor Leste in 2000, prior to independence in 2002, to administer its bilateral aid programme.