Tuesday 12 December 2017

Secrecy over costs and guests at lavish Vatican embassy parties

bishop Charles
John Brown
(left) passes in
front of Pope
Benedict XVI
during a mass
in St Peter's
Basilica at
Vatican City
Newly ordained bishop Charles John Brown (left) passes in front of Pope Benedict XVI during a mass in St Peter's Basilica at Vatican City yesterday
Newly ordained bishop Charles John Brown passes in front of Pope Benedict XVI during a mass in St Peter's Basilica at Vatican City yesterday
Bishop Brown, and newly elected bishop Marek Solczynski from Poland lay during their ordination ceremony.
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

DETAILS of lavish bashes thrown by the Irish ambassador to the Holy See last year are being kept under wraps.

The embassy, based in the opulent Villa Spada, is being closed for "economic reasons". But last year it continued to spend tens of thousands of euro on functions.

However, the Department of Foreign Affairs has refused to disclose details of three lavish bashes thrown by the Irish ambassador in the Vatican last year -- despite requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

Such details have previously been provided for other embassies, but in the case of the Holy See a department official claimed that it would take 557 hours of manpower to compile the information at a cost of €11,600.

The department had no difficulty disclosing costs, as well as the names of party-goers, at embassies in London and Washington. But documents relating to the functions in Rome are heavily redacted and no receipts and costs details have been provided for food, drink or gifts.

Relations between the Government and the Vatican reached an all-time low last year following Taoiseach Enda Kenny's criticism of the Catholic Church's role in covering up abuse scandals.

This was followed by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's decision to close the €700,000-a-year Holy See mission for what he said were "economic reasons".

But it is clear that despite a strain in relations between the Government and the Vatican last year, thousands of euro were still spent on functions at the embassy to wine and dine guests.

The department has refused to disclose the full costs of the three largest parties in the opulent 17th-century mansion, including a St Patrick's Day bash that was attended by at least 200 people.

It has blacked out all names on the guest lists, apart from those of Irish diplomats.

The largest function held at the embassy in 2011 was a St Patrick's Day reception, when 204 guests on a heavily redacted list were recorded as indicating that they would attend.

The few receipts released by the department show that €2,400 was spent on hiring 24 temporary staff, though this was the only cost disclosed.

The second-largest event hosted in the Holy See embassy last year was a reception on May 27 to mark Ambassador Noel Fahey's departure prior to his retirement the following month.

There were more than 300 names on the guest list, with at least 130 responding to say that they would attend. Eleven temporary staff were hired at a cost of €1,200.

The smallest function was "a farewell dinner" for British Ambassador Francis Campbell, originally from Co Down, who was leaving his posting to the Holy See.

The redacted guest list for this event suggests that 36 dignitaries were to attend.

Receipts show that almost €900 was spent on hiring staff and catering supplies for the event, including linen tablecloths and silver trays. The menu for the evening, although requested, was not released.

By contrast, details had previously been released on parties, including a function hosted at the Irish embassy in London in honour of Prince Charles in November 2010.

The department had also previously been happy to disclose the menu and cost for a dinner honouring the retiring US Senator Chris Dodd in Washington.

A spokesman for the department said it would be "impossible" to calculate the cost of individual functions as food and drink items were often bought in bulk at Irish embassies.

Asked why guests' names were redacted when this had not been done in previous releases of records, the department said: "The cases are not identical, so a guest list from a previous freedom of information request doesn't mean that you would get one (in a subsequent request)."

Irish Independent

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