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Gilmore's claim on embassy closure at odds with own figures

Fionnan Sheahan and Rowan Gallagher

Published 15/02/2012 | 05:00

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's claim that the Vatican Embassy was always on a hit list of embassy closures is at odds with the cost savings figures he estimates himself.

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Mr Gilmore's report on all the State's embassies abroad is being kept confidential as the controversy over the closure of the Vatican embassy rumbles on.

The Department of Foreign Affairs estimated last summer that the closure of two unnamed embassies would save €500,000 -- the exact same amount saved by closing the embassies in East Timor and Iran.

But Mr Gilmore claims the embassies initially listed for closure at the time were East Timor and the Vatican, with Iran only being added later in the year.

According to Mr Gilmore's own figures, the closure of the Vatican will save €400,000 this year and €845,000 next year.

Mr Gilmore's spokesman failed to explain the discrepancy last night.

Dispute

A report that might back up his claim the Vatican was always on a hit list for closure is being kept under wraps in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Tanaiste is caught up in a dispute over when exactly the Vatican was identified for closure -- either last summer or during the winter. He has contradicted the version of events provided by his own officials, who said at the weekend it didn't pop up for closure in an original review of department spending.

Mr Gilmore said the decision won't be reversed but he will look at it again if the Vatican eases its demand on embassies to the Holy See not being located in the same building as embassies to Rome.

His department cites "International Relations" as the reason to not release the report.

The Irish Embassy to the Vatican cost €589,300 to run last year, including €15,622 in receptions, €1,584 in travel and €344,578 in salaries, new figures reveal.

All told, Irish embassies cost the State more than €76m to run in 2011. Salaries, travel and subsistence claims for diplomats and hospitality costs make up the majority of spending.

The total wage bill was €42.6m, hospitality costs totalled €1.8m, while travel costs amounted to €1.42m, according to documents released by the Department of Foreign Affairs under the Freedom of Information Act.

Ireland's permanent representation to the European Union in Brussels is the most expensive foreign mission, costing €9.3m to run last year.

Ireland's Embassy in London (€5.17m), the permanent representation to the United Nations in New York (€2.95m), and embassies in Tokyo (€2.77m) and Paris (€2.65m) were among the top five most expensive missions in 2011.

Hospitality

The Irish Embassy in Washington spent most on hospitality, with a bill for €130,791, while the Consulate General in New York was second highest, spending €94,173 on functions and receptions.

Last night, the department said the network of diplomatic missions and their staff play an essential role "in promoting Ireland's interests, particularly supporting our economic recovery and assisting Irish businesses and Irish citizens overseas".

"Ireland's diplomatic network is already small in comparison with other countries of similar size," it said.

"Since 2008 there has been a 22pc decrease in the administrative budget of the Department -- a saving of €43m."

Irish Independent

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