Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pope was reason to reopen Vatican embassy

 Eamon Gilmore: Pope Francis is a 'natural ally'. The Government’s decision to reopen the Irish embassy in the Vatican was hugely influenced by the work of Pope Francis and his commitment to ending world poverty, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said yesterday. 

Just 26 months after the closure of the embassy, Mr Gilmore announced a scaled back, “modest, one-person operation”, at no extra cost to the taxpayer. 
The office will focus on international development.

It is one of five embassies to be set up. The others are in Bangkok, Jakarta, Zagreb, and Nairobi.

Amid opposition criticism that the foreign affairs minister had performed a U-turn for purely populist reasons, Mr Gilmore insisted he wished to build alliances between Ireland and the Vatican.

“One of the factors that influenced me was what Pope Francis had to say ab-out tackling world poverty. I believe he is very serious about it and I believe we can work with the Vatican on that agenda,” said Mr Gilmore, describing Pope Francis as a “natural ally”.

The decision to shut the embassy in Nov 2011 marked a new low in Ireland-Vatican relations.

Allegedly closed as a “cost-cutting” measure, it had been housed at the state-owned Villa Spada, which then became Ireland’s embassy to Italy.

According to Mr Gilmore, the closure led to a saving of €845,000 per year.

An ambassador to the Vatican is yet to be appointed but will be a mid-ranking official, at first secretary level, and will operate from a small rented building close to the Vatican with two office staff, Mr Gilmore said.

The reopening of the embassy was welcomed by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who said it was a very constructive exercise and would enhance relations with the Vatican.

Fianna Fáil’s foreign affairs spokesman Brendan Smith said it was a mistake to close it in the first place.

“They closed the Vatican embassy when they thought it would be popular and now they are reopening it when they think it might be popular. It is no way to run a diplomatic service and I only hope they have learned from the mistake,” he said.

Ireland will also open consuls in Hong Kong, Austin, and São Paulo.

The total cost of the new missions will be €4.7m a year.

The embassy in Lesotho will close, with the embassy in South Africa assuming responsibility for the kingdom. The embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, is to be downsized while the existing Irish Aid office in Sierra Leone will be upgraded to embassy status.

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