Thursday, February 09, 2012

Vatican embassy may reopen within two years, says Creighton

IRELAND will reopen its embassy to the Vatican "within the next year or two if economic conditions allow", European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton has predicted.

The Cabinet decided in November to close the embassy on the recommendation of Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore, who cited economic grounds as the reason.

The move has led to significant opposition from Fine Gael backbenchers, who say they have been receiving extensive complaints from constituents about it.

Ms Creighton is among those to have expressed a desire to see the embassy re-open, despite the fact she is the junior minister in Mr Gilmore’s department.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, she was careful not to criticise Mr Gilmore but again reiterated her belief that the embassy would be reopened within the Government’s term.

"My ministers at Cabinet agreed to this decision, so I won’t lay the blame at Eamon Gilmore’s door," she said. "I think it will reopen, not in the short term but I think within the next year or two if economic conditions allow."

The Irish embassy to the Vatican was based in Villa Spada, a historic building owned by the State.

The Vatican embassy was entirely separate to Ireland’s embassy to Italy, which was located in rented accommodation in Rome.

As a result of the decision to close the Vatican embassy, the Government decided to move the Italian embassy to Villa Spada to save money. However, the ambassador to Italy cannot double up as the ambassador to the Vatican because the Holy See does not permit a "joint servicing arrangement".

However, in the Seanad this week, Mr Gilmore signalled that the Vatican might be willing to show "some flexibility" on the issue.

"What I would like to have been able to do would have been to combine the embassy in Italy and the embassy in the Vatican.

"The Government has decided to appoint the secretary general of my department, David Cooney, to be the ambassador to the Holy See and to service that mission from Dublin.

"There are some indications that the Vatican may be willing to show some flexibility with regard to the co-location of embassies and offices and then we will continue to explore those possibilities.

"If circumstances improve, we can re-examine the position, but at the moment, the position is as it is and we do not have a resident ambassador to the Vatican."

Ms Creighton expressed the hope that an arrangement with the Vatican could be reached: "It may not be on the same scale as previously existed... We have moved our ambassador to Rome into the Villa Spada.

"I don’t think that we’d be decanting him from the Villa Spada to reinstate an ambassador but I think that we can come to an arrangement where we can put an ambassador on behalf of the Irish Government and the Irish people back into the Vatican."

She acknowledged that the relationship between Ireland and the Vatican had been "pretty frosty" of late but said both sides would have to be involved in the repairing of relations.

"It’s no secret that it was pretty frosty in recent times but I think that rebuilding of relations has to happen on both sides.

"Clearly in relation to Cloyne, there are a lot of question marks over how the Vatican handled it... The Taoiseach expressed very well on behalf of the Government our view on that.

"I think the Vatican has a task in terms of rebuilding relations with the Irish state and the Irish people. The Government also has a role to play in rebuilding relations with the Vatican."

She expressed her hope that Pope Benedict would visit Ireland for the Eucharistic Congress in June.

Mr Gilmore has already made clear that the Government would "respond positively" if the Pope indicated he wished to visit.

"The Tánaiste, on behalf of the Government, has said that he would love to issue an invitation," said Ms Creighton. "If the Pope is inclined to come, the Government will issue an invitation."

Asked if she believed it likely that the Pope would visit, she said: "I hope so. It is kind of tight in terms of timing. But if not, I hope that there will be some other opportunity in the next year or two where there might be time."

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