Friday 27 April 2018

Gilmore denies any secular agenda on embassy closure

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore last night insisted the Vatican Embassy was always on a hit list of closures -- contradicting his own department's previous explanation.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mr Gilmore also denied the Labour Party had an anti-church motivation, saying: "There isn't a secular agenda."

He said the Government was not going to reverse its decision to close the embassy -- but would look at the issue again if the Vatican relaxed its demand that the embassies to Rome and the Holy See be located in two separate buildings.

The fallout from the decision to close the Vatican Embassy continued to reverberate in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Department confirmed over the weekend that the shutting of the Vatican Embassy was not proposed in an initial spending report last Summer.

The recommendation to close the embassies in Iran and East Timor was made in this report to save €500,000 a year and was subsequently implemented.

The Vatican Embassy only popped up in a subsequent -- previously unknown -- review in November, shortly before Mr Gilmore announced the decision to close three embassies.

The Department said over the weekend that the Vatican closure arose because of the "need to bring about greater savings" when a second specific review on representations abroad was done.

But Mr Gilmore contradicted this statement yesterday claiming the closure of the Vatican Embassy was on the original list of cost-saving measures.

He said the Vatican and East Timor embassies were identified for closure in the summer, with Iran added later.

"The two embassies that were being looked at at that stage in the Comprehensive Spending Review were the Holy See and Timor Leste. Now the Comprehensive Spending Review was not the only consideration about embassies," Mr Gilmore said.

"We had been looking at the embassy network since the Government was formed and there were a range of options considered over a period of time.

"And the final decision on the embassies to be recommended to Government for closure was a decision that I made. But the Holy See was always on the department's own consideration. I know there was some speculation at the weekend that it wasn't and that I added it. That's not the case. The Embassy to the Holy See was under consideration for some time and the two that were referred to in the Comprehensive Spending Review were the Holy See and East Timor."

Mr Gilmore also rejected suggestions Labour had anti-religious motivations.

"No there isn't a secular agenda here. The decision in relation to embassies was based on the fact that, as a department, we have to make savings. The money is one part of it. The other part of it is personnel. We have a small diplomatic team. We can't spread ourselves too thinly," he said.

Former Department of Foreign Affairs secretary general Sean Donlon said the Government was wrong to close the Vatican Embassy.

Declining to engage in a row with the former Ambassador to the US, Mr Gilmore said people were entitled to express their opinions.

"It is a democratic, free country and long may that continue. I have no problem at all with people expressing their opinion," he said.

"But I have been clear from the very beginning that this decision was made, that it was a regrettable decision, it was a decision that I would have preferred we didn't have to take. It's taken. It's not going to be reversed."

Irish Independent

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