Labour dig in on Gilmore embassy closure
Poll highlights big difference of opinion with Fine Gael
Published 11/02/2012 | 07:08
LABOUR backbenchers all firmly back Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore’s decision to close our Vatican embassy – highlighting a huge difference of opinion with their coalition colleagues in Fine Gael.
Fine Gael backbenchers are openly revolting over the closure of the embassy to the Holy See. Labour last night ensured that all its TDs spoke with one voice by getting party chief whip Emmet Stagg to issue a statement supporting Mr Gilmore on their behalf.
This came after the Irish Independent contacted all 26 backbench TDs and six junior ministers to ask whether they agreed with the controversial closure. Mr Stagg said: “Myself and my fellow Labour Party TDs and senators are fully supportive of the Tanaiste’s approach in this matter.”
Mr Stagg also apparently held out an olive branch to the disgruntled Fine Gael opponents of the closure by saying that Mr Gilmore was willing to review the decision if the Vatican relaxed its demand for two separate embassies.
There is concern that the decision could lead to Labour being seen as “anti-Catholic” even though some of its TDs are regular Mass-goers.
Labour TDs and senators – who spoke privately after Mr Stagg issued his collective statement – all agreed they had no major concerns about the move. One TD said cuts to teacher numbers in disadvantaged schools and to training grants for community employment schemes were bigger issues.
Another backbencher said it had barely been mentioned at parliamentary party meetings. The five Labour ministers – including Mr Gilmore himself – were not contacted for the survey, given that they had agreed the decision along with their Fine Gael cabinet colleagues.
In his statement, Mr Stagg said the decision was taken by the Government in the context of the need for reductions in expenditure across the board.
“The refusal of the Vatican to allow countries to use their embassy to Italy as their embassy to the Vatican has meant that we have had to maintain two embassies. . . at significant cost,” he said.
Labour junior minister for housing Jan O’Sullivan – who had responded before Mr Stagg cracked his whip – said she agreed with the decision. She said the arrangement to have Department of Foreign Affairs secretary general David Cooney as the non-resident ambassador was “working well”. “But a viable alternative, if the Vatican would agree, would be to arrange for diplomatic relationships with the Vatican to be provided at our embassy in Rome,” she said.
Labour’s Dublin South-East TD Kevin Humphreys also backed this alternative option while saying that he agreed with the closure. “If the Vatican was willing to recognise our Italian ambassador or allow sharing of embassy address, similar savings could have been made,” he said.
Mr Gilmore has insisted that the closure would save €845,000. At a recent Fine Gael meeting, more than 30 backbenchers spoke in favour of a motion for the embassy closure to be reviewed. And a survey by the Irish Independent revealed 13 TDs who were still publicly stating their opposition to the closure, as well as several others calling for a review.