Saturday 17 February 2018

Government axes Vatican embassy

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

CHURCH-state relations hit a new low last night after the Government revealed it is shutting down the embassy in the Vatican.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny attracted worldwide attention four months ago when he criticised the Vatican for failing to co-operate fully with state inquiries into the sexual abuse of children by priests.

Yesterday, he and his Cabinet decided to shut down the Irish Embassy to the Holy See in Rome to save up to €700,000 per year.

The closures of the Irish embassies in Iran and East Timor will bring the total savings to €1.25m.

The move was greeted with disappointment by the Catholic Church's two most influential figures, Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin.

Cardinal Brady said Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore had phoned him yesterday afternoon to inform him of the decision.

"I wish to express my profound disappointment at this decision which means that Ireland will be without a resident ambassador to the Holy See for the first time since diplomatic relations were established and envoys were exchanged between the two states in 1929. I know that many others will share this disappointment," the Cardinal said.

He hoped that despite this "regrettable step" the close and mutually beneficial co-operation between Ireland and the Holy See in the world of diplomacy could continue -- based on shared commitment to justice, peace, international development and concern for the common good.

But Mr Gilmore denied that the move was prompted by the Vatican's failure to co-operate with the reports into clerical sex abuse in the Cloyne diocese.

"The key consideration was obviously where we could make savings. I was anxious to retain resident missions in countries where there is a clear economic or trade interest," he said.

There is another Irish embassy in Rome -- but the Vatican will not accredit any ambassador who is also accredited to the Italian government.

The Government is planning to get the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin to maintain diplomatic relations with the Vatican instead.

Mr Gilmore denied that the Government was risking a breakdown in diplomatic relations with the Vatican by closing down its embassy there. He said they had informed them yesterday afternoon after the decision was made by the Cabinet.

"We're not breaking off diplomatic relations with the Vatican. We have diplomatic relations with a large number of countries where we don't have resident embassies," he said.

The Vatican could not be contacted last night -- and it remains to be seen whether it decides to appoint a new special envoy here.

The previous Papal Nuncio, Dr Giuseppe Leanza, was recalled shortly after Mr Kenny's strongly critical speech in the Dail. The Vatican later rejected Mr Kenny's claim it sabotaged efforts to report child-molesting priests to police.

Around €1.4m has been spent refurbishing Villa Spada, the embassy to the Holy See in Rome, which was recently valued at €25m. The building is now going to be used by the Irish Embassy in Rome, which will move out of its rented accommodation.

Mr Gilmore said there would be no more embassy closures now that the value-for-money review of the missions abroad had been completed.

Irish Independent

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