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Gilmore takes Fergus' Herald advice to shut Vatican embassy

AN UNHOLY spat was underway today after the Tanaiste announced the closure of the Irish Embassy to the Vatican.

The Catholic Church engaged in a diplomatic row with the Government after the Foreign Affairs Minister called Cardinal Sean Brady to inform him of the decision.

Eamon Gilmore concluded that for "financial reasons" there was no need to maintain an embassy in the Vatican when the State already has an outlet a few kilometres away in Rome.

His decision followed a call in the Herald last July in which columnist Fergus Finlay urged the Cabinet to consider the value of the expensive embassy.

In the wake of the Cloyne report, Mr Finlay wrote: "Diplomacy that is based on obsequiousness in one direction, and lofty disdain in the other, is more than meaningless, it's damaging and corrosive."

He added: "Sometimes diplomats recognise the value of a short sharp shock. We may not want to sever our diplomatic ties with the Vatican entirely, but it's time we made them work. And it's time that Vatican recognised that no one in Ireland is going to put up with their patronising nonsense any longer."

Mr Gilmore took the ultimate measure of recalling Ambassador Noel Fahey from the Holy See. "We've conducted a review of our diplomatic missions abroad as part of the overall review of spending which the government is undertaking. Government departments have to achieve cost savings."

He added: "I would prefer to have separate ambassadors in Rome but given the economic circumstances, the requirement to reduce costs and to operate our diplomatic missions on a very tight budget, it's one of those regrettable decisions we've had to make."

It is estimated that by closing the Holy See Embassy the government will save around €700,000 a year. The closures of the Irish embassies in Iran and East Timor will bring the total savings to €1.25m.

Mr Gilmore has 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.

He stated: "Diplomatic relations are not being severed. We continue to have diplomatic relations with the Vatican -- directly from Dublin rather than having a resident ambassador in Rome to do that."

However, Cardinal Sean Brady has expressed his "profound disappointment" at the decision that see Ireland having no ambassador in the Vatican for the first time since 1929.

Editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper Gary O'Sullivan said that the decision reflected Mr Gilmore's inexperience.

He accused the Foreign Affairs Minister of "wiping out a vital part of our diplomatic inheritance with the stroke of a pen despite only being in the job for a matter of months".

"It also means that the Vatican might pull their diplomatic representative out of Ireland and we will have bishops being appointed by Rome via the Nuncio in London."