Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Vatican embassy provided valuable service, inspectors found

DEPARTMENT REPORT: STAFF AT the former Irish embassy to the Holy See provided an important service by keeping in contact with leaders of the Catholic Church, according to an embassy inspection report.

Embassy personnel maintained an active dialogue with senior Vatican civil servants on issues with a bearing on Ireland’s national interests, the report said. 

Drawn up in 2008 by a Department of Foreign Affairs inspection team comprising two officials, it was the last such report prepared in advance of the closure of the embassy earlier this year.

The embassy to the Holy See in the Vatican was closed, along with the Irish embassies in Iran and Timor Leste, as part of a cost-cutting measure by the Government.

In 2011, the embassy in Iran cost €420,987; the Vatican cost €348,000; and the Timor Leste mission cost €200,000. The overall cost of all diplomatic missions last year was €76 million.

The report noted the Vatican had an “unrivalled network of information sources around the world” and that access to this information could be particularly relevant in crisis or emergency situations, when normal diplomatic channels may not be available.

“Although its influence in Ireland has declined since the embassy was established, the Catholic Church remains the church of the majority of the people in Ireland. Direct contact with the leaders of the church in Rome is therefore valuable,” said the report, which was released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Through contact with Vatican officials and visiting Irish clergymen, the report found embassy personnel were in a position to monitor developments of concern to the church in Ireland that “may be of interest to the Government in its relations with a very significant force in Irish society”.

The embassy could be more proactive in trying to influence the views of the Vatican, it added.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Fianna Fáil spokesman for foreign affairs, said his party believed the embassy should be reopened. “We have always maintained that the embassy should not have been closed in the first place and the closure is doing a real disservice to the people of Ireland,” he said.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has said the decision to close the embassy would only be reviewed if financial circumstances improved or if the Vatican relaxed its requirement about having two separate buildings for the Italian and Holy See embassies.

Separately, an inspection report into the former Irish embassy to Iran found the political division of the Department of Foreign Affairs believed it “would be seriously disadvantaged if there was no Irish embassy in Tehran”. 

The inspectors noted the embassy was an important resource for the State that provided valuable insight into a country that was a significant player in the Middle East.

The Department of Foreign Affairs was unable comment on whether the reports had been taken into account in decisions to close the embassies.

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