Wednesday 21 March 2018

Vatican's embassy closure not in original draft of cuts

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

FINE Gael TDs were angered last night by revelations that the closure of the Vatican embassy was not originally proposed in a review of spending in Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Holy See embassy controversy has developed into a major faultline between the coalition partners, with Fine Gael backbenchers opposed to the move by the Labour Party leader.

A Labour backbencher yesterday described the decision as a "pretty trivial matter", but a Fine Gael TD said the latest developments showed "weakness" by his party's ministers.

The shutting down of two other embassies was proposed in a spending report last summer which concluded the number of embassies was "modest, by comparable international standards" and "reflects the interests and needs of the State".

No mention was made of the Vatican embassy in Mr Gilmore's department's study of all spending under the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure.


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

The Vatican embassy only popped up in a subsequent, previously unknown, review, which was also ordered by Mr Gilmore and carried out in November, shortly before the minister announced the decision to close three embassies.

The department last night confirmed the Vatican embassy's closure was not included in the original review. But it subsequently arose because of the "need to bring about greater savings" when a second specific review on the department's representations abroad was done. It is not known how much the Vatican embassy closure will save each year.

Fine Gael TDs were privately annoyed the explanation behind the decision had changed.

"That would certainly put it in a different light. That's not the pup we were sold. I'm sure there will be a lot of fallout. We were told it was part of the rationalisation that was recommended. That will definitely throw a drop of petrol on it," a party backbencher said.

Mr Gilmore was accused of engaging in "populist rubbish for somebody struggling to make an impression" by another Fine Gael TD.

"It does show a certain weakness in the Fine Gael members at Cabinet, who let a decision be taken which would cause distress among most decent people. They need a bit more balls.

"It shows a major lack of political judgment on Gilmore's part and a lack of conviction and political antennae from the Fine Gael ministers," the deputy told the Irish Independent.

The Labour Party is backing Mr Gilmore's decision to close the embassy -- highlighting a huge difference of opinion with their coalition colleagues in Fine Gael.

At the weekend, all Labour TDs spoke with one voice by getting party chief whip Emmet Stagg to issue a statement supporting Mr Gilmore on their behalf.

Labour TD Aodhan O'Riordain yesterday described the closure as a "pretty trivial matter". He said the country has two embassies in Rome and has to close one.

"In terms of decisions being made, it doesn't bother me a whole lot," he said on Newstalk.

"It was taken on an economic basis. I am quite happy with the decision," he added.

Fine Gael TD Derek Keating repeated his call for the Tanaiste to review the decision.

"There is the possibility of providing the services the Vatican is providing within the Italian embassy," he said.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News