The announcement that the Government intends to reopen the Irish Embassy to the Holy See in Rome has been greeted with immediate satisfaction by Vatican officials.
One senior Vatican figure said the reopening will mark “the end of a painful period” in Ireland’s relations with the Holy See.
Closed in November 2011, allegedly as a cost-cutting measure, the reopening of the Embassy was announced today by Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore as part of an expansion of Ireland’s diplomatic network which will see Embassies opening in Thailand, Indonesia, Croatia, Kenya and the Holy See.
At the time of the 2011 closure, many commentators argued it marked an unprecedentedly low ebb in Ireland-Vatican relations.
Just three months earlier in a speech in the Dáil, Taoiseach Enda Kenny had criticised the Vatican’s handling of the Irish church’s sex abuse crisis, saying: “Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart’... the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.”
No definite date has been established for the reopening, given that a new Ambassador must first be appointed and that new premises close to the Vatican have yet to be located.
A Foreign Affairs spokesman did suggest, however, that it was hoped to have the new Ambassador installed by this summer.
Since it was closed in 2011, the role of Ambassador has been covered on a caretaker basis by the secretary general of Foreign Affairs, David Cooney, working out of Iveagh House in Dublin.
Officials also stressed that there would be no possibility of the Embassy being housed at its old site of the State-owned Villa Spada which, in the meantime, has become the Irish Embassy to the Italian state itself. This is not because of any Vatican veto but rather because there is no space available at Villa Spada.
Foreign Affairs also claims the new Vatican Embassy will be a “modest”, one-person operation, in keeping with the new wind of sobriety and parsimony blowing through the Vatican under Pope Francis.
In diplomatic circles, it has long been suggested that the Holy See is a very efficient “listening post”, given the Catholic Church’s unparalleled, worldwide intelligence network of priest and nuns.
Senior diplomats today suggested, however, that this is not the reason why Ireland has chosen to reopen its Embassy.
Rather they argue that in the context of a pontificate which puts huge emphasis on poverty, on human rights issues and on developing world matters, it makes sense for Ireland to have a permanent, residential presence in Rome.