Rabbitte's daughter was put up in plush embassy on Patrick's Day trip
PAT Rabbitte's daughter stayed at the Irish Embassy to the Holy See in Rome during her father's St Patrick's Day trip to the Italian capital last year.
During his State-funded visit, the Communications Minister and his daughter Lucy, a PR officer of a Milan-based fashion firm, enjoyed the palatial surroundings of the Villa Spada – the 16th century mansion owned by the taxpayer, which housed the embassy to the Holy See before it was controversially closed.
The Labour politician, who jetted out to New York and Pittsburgh this year, was criticised by one priest last week for what he called "sneering" and "belittling" comments about Pope Benedict XVI's resignation.
The Minister was critical of the RTE editorial decision to send 12 staff to cover the first resignation of a Pope in more than 600 years.
"I don't think the entire of RTE needs to decamp to Rome if the Pope decides to go missing, but that is my view," Mr Rabbitte told the Irish Mirror last week.
"It wouldn't be appropriate for a minister to intrude on the day-to-day operation decisions that the broadcaster has to make and I don't intend to do that.
"But yes, I am entitled as a consumer to have an opinion – and I think that we would have managed to get a marvellous insight into why his Holiness decided to hang up his red shoes if we had done it with somewhat less attendance at the Vatican."
The minister and his daughter were invited to stay in the spectacular Irish Embassy in Rome that costs the State €300,000 a year to run – excluding the salaries of eight staff members. The walls of the lavish residence of Irish Ambassador to Italy Patrick Hennesy and his wife Pauline are draped in ancient Italian frescoes, and sweeping rustic gardens feature waterfalls and fountains.
A Department of Communications spokesman said: "The minister's daughter, who lives in Italy, accompanied him to Rome and stayed at the Irish Embassy – imposing no cost on the taxpayer."
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said: "It is practice, where possible, that ambassadors offer to accommodate ministers who are on working visits to promote Ireland abroad. This was the case on this occasion and the ambassador also extended an invitation to Mr Rabbitte's daughter."
The three-storey former home of the Irish Embassy to Holy See had a €1.4m refurbishment in recent years and was renovated again last year when Mr Hennesy and his staff moved into the building.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore announced the shock decision that the Government was closing the Embassy to the Holy See in 2011 and it has since led to tensions between Fine Gael and Labour.
The minister also attended Saint Isidore's Church in Rome where he rang the Eucharistic Congress bell during a St Patrick's Day's mass. The head of Saint Isidore's College, Fr Micheal MacCraith, who presided over the ceremony, said he was "surprised" by Mr Rabbitte's comments on the Pope, adding that "RTE would have been grossly irresponsible if they hadn't covered it".
After the ceremony in Saint Isidore's Church, Mr Rabbitte joined Mary McAleese and other guests for a lunch hosted by the religious congregations at the Irish College in Rome.
He finished off the weekend at the Irish Club of Rome's annual Celtic Ball in the luxurious five-star Parco dei Principi Hotel beside the beautiful Villa Borghese gardens.
The Communications Department would not confirm or deny if the politician's daughter accompanied him to either function.
During his whirlwind visit to the Mediterranean country, he also attended functions in Milan and had the honour of illuminating the Leaning Tower of Pisa in green during a special St Patrick's Day event.