Monday 11 December 2017

FG push for re-opening of Vatican Embassy

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore is facing growing demands from Fine Gael backbenchers for a rethink about his closure of the Ireland's Vatican Embassy.

The closure has cast doubt over the prospects of the Pope coming here in summer for the Eucharistic Congress.

The decision to close the embassy is particularly sensitive in Fine Gael, with some party sources privately suggesting Taoiseach Enda Kenny should not have allowed it to happen.

The former Vatican Embassy is to be renovated to allow the Irish Embassy in Rome to operate from the building.

A proposal being mooted is to have a lightly staffed Vatican Embassy share the building, the Villa Spada, on the outskirts of Rome.

A lobby against the closure is building up momentum, with TDs being targeted for support by the group, Ireland Stand Up.

Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes is among the backbenchers who want the Tanaiste to have a rethink about the closure.

"An accommodation needs to be made. We need to deal with it," he said.

Mr Kenny's constituency colleague, John O'Mahony, also wants to see some movement. He said he didn't accept the argument on cost put forward for closing the embassy. It was important to keep lines of communication open.

"I won't be happy until I see it re-opening," he said.

But Mr Gilmore is not in the mood for any change of heart on the Government's decision.

"No, that decision has been made and I don't intend to reverse that. As part of the expenditure review that has been conducted, my department, like every other department, have had to look at the services that we have provided.

"We have decided to reduce by three the number of resident embassies that we have abroad. When economic circumstances improve, we can look at all that again," he told the Irish Independent at the weekend.

Following the Taoiseach's attack on the Vatican after the Cloyne Report, the Government's relations with the Holy See are at a low ebb.

Thousands of pilgrims and clergy are expected in Dublin for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in June in Croke Park.

Although Mr Gilmore has said the Government would welcome a visit by Pope Benedict, there are fears among churchgoers that the Coalition's attitude will put the Pontiff off coming to the event.

"The official line is, it is a matter for the church authorities to issue the invite. The church would invite him but the Pope has to feel he is welcome in Ireland and the Government is welcoming," a source said.

The Vatican Embassy has been officially closed since the start of the year. A secretary is still operating there doing administration work.

Work is ongoing to convert Villa Spada to allow the Irish Embassy to move in.

Irish Independent

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