Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Gilmore insists diplomatic relations with Vatican remain ‘very strong’

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has insisted that diplomatic relations with the Vatican remain "very strong" despite a furore over the closure of Ireland’s embassy to the Holy See. 

In an interview with Vatican Radio, the Labour leader also said that it was hoped the Government could examine locations for embassies once the country’s finances improved.

A campaign by TDs from Mr Gilmore’s coalition partner Fine Gael to call for its re-instatement is gathering momentum, with Lucinda Creighton, the junior foreign affairs minister, backing demands for the embassy’s doors to be reopened.

Mr Gilmore told the official radio station for the Vatican that staff and budget cutbacks had forced the Government to close three embassies, including the one at the Holy See.

"Well, as you know, Ireland has been going through a very difficult economic period at the moment the consequence of that is a reduction in the amount of money that is available to all government departments, including the Department of Foreign Affairs, and also a very significant reduction in the number of staff that we have available to us.

"We have a very small diplomatic team spread around the world. We conducted a review of our diplomatic missions and our missions overseas and decided that regrettably, at this time, we would have to close three of those. One of those three was the embassy to the Holy See.

"I want to emphasise of course that our diplomatic relations with the Holy See remain very strong.

"We have appointed the most senior diplomat in our department, the secretary general of our department, to be the Irish ambassador to the Holy See and he will serve us at that function from Dublin.

"I would hope in the course of time, as our financial and economic circumstances improve, that we can revisit the whole question of where our missions are, including the question of our mission to the Holy See."

His comments came after Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the issue of the embassy closure would not be revisited in the near future, despite calls from his backbenchers to review it.

The Fine Gael parliamentary party last week strongly endorsed a motion calling for a review of the closure, which was announced by Mr Gilmore in November.

Mr Gilmore also said that efforts would be made to protect religious freedom as part of Ireland’s chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

"The promotion and defence of religious freedom is very much a priority for the OSCE, and it is a particular priority for Ireland as chairperson of the OSCE."

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