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€600k not enough? Why not send Fat Cat to Rome for plum job ...

THE country's top civil servant has been linked to a plum post in the Vatican -- after retiring with a €600,000 package.

Dermot McCarthy, former Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach, is being reported as a likely candidate for the position of Irish Ambassador to Holy See.

Mr McCarthy hit the headlines this week after receiving his massive retirement package, which was given to him in addition to a €142,000-a-year pension.

A devout Catholic, his name has been frequently linked to the position of Ambassador to the Vatican.

The post comes with a salary of almost €150,000 and lavish residential quarters overlooking the Vatican. The job is currently vacant, and it is yet to be confirmed by the Government that the position will be filled at all.

Relations between the Vatican and our Government are at an all-time low, following the fallout from the damning Cloyne Report on clerical abuse.

Former Ambassador to the Holy See Noel Fahey retired in June and his duties have been performed by a diplomat of lower rank since then.

One possibility is that the embassy will be closed, and the duties will be carried out by the Irish Embassy to Italy, which is also based in Rome.

The Taoiseach was yesterday remaining coy on the issue, stating that it would be decided by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore in due course.

"I wouldn't like to speculate on what the Tanaiste might decide in relation to the vacancy at the Holy See," the Taoiseach said.

And a Government spokesperson also refused to comment, adding that he is "not aware" of any contacts with Mr McCarthy about the position.

Mr McCarthy retired from the Department of the Taoiseach this year having served there for 11 years.

His €600,000 payoff, on top of his annual pension of €142,000, came under fire from two Government ministers.

However, Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton stressed that it was not possible to backdate any new laws to change the pension entitlements of retired civil servants.

"What it will mean for the long term future is pensions commitments will be capped -- it will be both fairer and more sustainable and I think that's vital that those sort of decisions are made now," he said.

The Taoiseach came under fire from the opposition for failing to criticise the pension package.

Sinn Fein labelled it as "scandalously high and completely inappropriate".