Wednesday 26 April 2017

Vatican Embassy closed 'purely on costs grounds', Foreign Affairs insist

Daniel McConnell, Political Correspondent

TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore's controversial decision to close the Vatican Embassy was done "purely on cost grounds, but nobody ever believes me," his top official in the Department of Foreign Affairs has said.

David Cooney, Secretary General at Foreign Affairs, answering questions at the Public Accounts Committee today, was detailing plans to re-open the embassy "on a modest one-man basis" later this year.

The re-opened embassy will be located at the Villa Spada, the grand building which housed the former embassy to the Vatican. Since 2011, it has been the home of the Irish Embassy to Italy.

Commenting on the original decision to shut the Embassy to the Holy See, which caused great controversy within Fine Gael in 2011, Mr Cooney said the decision was a difficult one, but one made totally determined by costs.

"Like all Government departments, we were being asked to make savings. We tried to protect the overseas aid budget. The decision to close the Holy See was done solely on cost grounds, no one ever believes me, but that it the case," he said.

He also said the election of Pope Francis and his message on dealing with poverty "chimed very much" with the Tanaiste's agenda.

Separately, it emerged at the committee, that the Irish Government made about €100,000 in profit from the repaying of €4million which was defrauded by the Ugandan Government.

Because of conversion rates from Ugandan shillings to Euro, the profit was made. Mr Cooney told PAC member John Deasy that the €100,000 may have paid for some of the airfares" taken by Irish officials charged with recouping the money.

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