Taoiseach Enda Kenny has invited Pope Francis to Ireland.
He also said this afternoon that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore will bring the name of Ireland's new ambasssador to the Holy See to the cabinet on Wednesday.
Speaking to the media at the Irish College in Rome, where he had just been to a lunch, Mr Kenny said that while it was up to the Church to invite Pope Francis to Ireland, the Government would provide whatever support was necessary.
The Taoiseach also said he told Pope Francis that his papacy to date had brought about "an extraordinary difference to the perception of the Catholic Church. "
He also said that in Ireland now there was “a clearer and healthier relationship between Church and State”.
Asked if the Pope had indicated that he might be coming to Ireland, the Taoiseach replied: "I can't say that his eyes lit up but he did recognise the country I was speaking about...and it is my hope that the Pope would travel to Northern Ireland as well, given the changed events in politics where the circle of history has closed following the Queen's visit to Ireland and the recent visit to England by President Higgins..."
Mr Kenny was accompanied by the Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady, who said he was delighted to see such a strong representation from the Irish Government at the canonisation which he described as "a great day for the Church."
Mr Kenny was in Rome to see Pope Francis declare Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II as saints at a ceremony during Mass in Rome's St Peter's Square this morning.
Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world had converged on the Vatican to attend the sainthood ceremony of two giants of the Catholic Church in the 20th century.
An estimated 3,000 Irish pilgrims are in Rome for the canonisations.
Mr Kenny denied that his Government has been sending “mixed signals” to the Holy See in relation to the painful question of the Irish clerial sex abuse crisis.
Asked about the decision to close the Irish Embassy to the Holy See, three years ago, only to now reopen it, he replied: “That decision made in the beginning was based strictly on economics...I expect the Tánaiste to bring a name to Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, the name of someone to be appointed Ambassador to the Holy See and a lot of people in Ireland have been complimentary about that decision and that is not a mixed signal, it is very clear and decisive.”
Asked if Ireland had now returned to being a “good daughter” of the Catholic Church, he said Ireland was a country that “respects the work of all religions”.
“Ireland is a country where there is a very healthy relationship between Church and state where we continue with the structured dialogue that we’ve had with His Eminence (Cardinal Brady) and the Bishops and the church and we will continue to build on that...,” he said.
It was pointed out to Mr Kenny that this sounded very different from the Taoiseach who spoke in the Dáil about the Holy See responding to the sex abuse crisis with “the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer”.
He replied: “The church has moved to deal with the many problems of the legacy, the scars of the sex abuse crisis...We want that to be dealt with up front, accountable and transparent...As far as the Government is concerned, we have made our position very clear by holding a referendum (on children’s rights), the appointment of a senior Minister (Frances Fitzgerald), putting in place legislation and we expect not only the Church but all the organisations associated and the agencies to work collectively and collaboratively to see that those legacies are dealt with so that a situation is put in place for now and the future where these things cannot happen again...”
Asked about the wisdom of the decision to canonise Pope John Paul II given the much publicised reservations about his handling of the well documented allegations against Marical Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, the Taoiseach said it was a question that only the pope could answer.
“I am an ordinary member of the Catholic Church, I leave that to his better judgement,” he said.
“Clearly when John Paul came to Ireland, Ireland was a different country and he made an extraordinary impact on the Irish people. I would say that the Catholic Church in the person of Pope Francis is setting out on a road to deal globally with the issues of child sexual abuse, in so far as this concerned the Catholic Church.
“The Pope has made it clear that he expects the future of the Church not to be based solely on these issues but rather on poverty and human rights, social justice and social equality and he has brought an extraordinary energy to those areas since his election to the Papacy.”