Sunday 17 December 2017

Vatican Embassy closure was 'purely on cost grounds'

Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's controversial decision to close the Vatican Embassy was done "purely on cost grounds, but nobody ever believes me", his top official in the Department of Foreign Affairs has said.

David Cooney, secretary general at Foreign Affairs, answering questions at the Public Accounts Committee, was detailing plans to reopen the embassy "on a modest one-man basis" later this year.

The reopened embassy will be located at the Villa Spada, the grand building that housed the former embassy to the Vatican. Since 2011, it has been the home of the Irish Embassy to Italy.

Commenting on the original decision to shut the Embassy to the Holy See, which caused controversy within Fine Gael in 2011, Mr Cooney said the decision was a difficult one, but one totally determined by costs.

"Like all government departments, we were being asked to make savings. The decision to close the Holy See was done solely on cost grounds," he said.

He also said the election of Pope Francis and his message on dealing with poverty "chimed very much" with the Tanaiste's agenda.

Separately, it emerged at the committee that the Government made about €100,000 in profit from the repaying of €4m which was defrauded by the Ugandan Government. Because of conversion rates from Ugandan shillings to euro, the profit was made.

Mr Cooney told PAC member John Deasy that the €100,000 may have paid for some of the airfares taken by Irish officials charged with recouping the money.

Irish Independent

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