THE Government is planning to open several new embassies around the world in places as far apart as South America and Asia -- but there will be no U-turn on the controversial decision to close down the Irish embassy in the Vatican.
This has been disclosed by the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore in an interview with the Sunday Independent.
The Vatican embassy closure provoked a political reaction, particularly among Fine Gael backbenchers, and was the subject of a heated debate at the Labour Party conference last weekend.
But in the end, the delegates voted to back Mr Gilmore's decision, which was made in his capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Defending his decision, Mr Gilmore said last week: "We had a small diplomatic service, much smaller than most countries of our size.
"We are in straitened economic circumstances, I have to make the most prudent and practical use of both the money I have available and the personnel I have available.
"I decided -- or recommended to Government -- that we would close three of our smaller missions and the Vatican was among them. That decision stands."
However, Mr Gilmore added: "When our financial circumstances improve, we can look at it again. We have a small service and what we have to do is place that service to the best advantage of the country and the needs of the country.
"Right now, that means that we have to have a presence in each of the European Union member states, we'll be taking up presidency next year. Because of the discussions that we're having with European partners anyway about financial and other matters, it makes sense that we have a presence right across all of the European capitals.
"We also have to look at the areas where there are significant numbers of Irish people visiting and going to work.
"And there is a third aspect to this in that we put a very big emphasis on in our diplomatic work. And that is that our diplomatic service take a more leading role in the promotion of Ireland's trade interests."
The Tanaiste said he had been examining for some time now where we needed to "broaden our footprint for trade purposes".
"We are looking in particular at a lot of the new BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) countries, the emerging markets.
"One of the things that I'm hugely conscious of is if you take South America, we've only two resident embassies in South America.
"And if you consider the progress we are now making in China, well we have an embassy in Beijing, we have a consulate in Shanghai. (But) arguably we need a bigger presence there."
He added: "I think we need a bigger presence across Asia. I don't see the question of where we have embassies and consulates as something that's kind of fixed in stone.
"We have to adapt to the changing requirements -- and the changing requirements is that we can service the Vatican from Dublin."