Thursday 29 June 2017

Our economising must include foreign service

We simply cannot afford to have embassies all over the place as well as overlapping posts, writes Eamon Delaney

IT IS no surprise that Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell has called for a review of the State's ambassadorial presence in Europe, a suggestion which comes just as the Government embarks on a diplomatic drive to restore our battered international reputation. Our foreign service is one area that has been more or less ignored when we look at areas where cuts can be made. During the boom, the Irish foreign service grew dramatically, but now in times of serious hardship, some serious changes should be considered.

During the Tiger years, Irish embassies were opened in all sorts of places. The idea was to have full embassies in all EU member states, and even applicant EU states, but we also opened embassies in Singapore and Thailand, and in many African destinations such as Mozambique, mindful of our extensive aid programme. We even opened an embassy in Timor Leste, formerly East Timor, purely because of our emotional connection to the independence campaign there. All a bit extravagant.

Some of our missions are in places that most Irish taxpayers would be hard put to find on a map. And for most of these outposts, there is the upkeep of the diplomats, the movement of goods and families, and the State paying for their children in schools. Rightly or wrongly, it is often regarded as the 'icing on the cake' of the public sector.

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