Monday, December 26, 2011

Ireland appoints top diplomat as new ambassador to the Holy See

Ireland’s top diplomat, David John Cooney, will be the country’s first non-resident ambassador to the Holy See. 
The Holy See gave its agreement to his nomination at the end of last week, Vatican Insider has learned from informed sources.  The Irish Government is expected to make the formal announcement soon.
Ireland established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1929 and, since then, has always had a resident ambassador in Rome. 
Cooney, the first non-resident ambassador, succeeds Noel J. Fahey, the country’s last resident ambassador to the Holy See, who retired in June after a distinguished career in the diplomatic service.
His appointment comes after the Government, on November 3, decided to close the Embassy to the Holy See and appoint a non-resident ambassador. It did so for economic reasons, it said, but most observers believe the main rationale was political.  The decision came in the wake of strong tensions between the two sides over the role played by the Vatican in the abuse of minors by priests’ scandal in Ireland. 
Cooney is Secretary-General to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and, as such, Ireland’s top diplomat.  He will retain that post whilst also serving as ambassador to the Holy See, and will commute between Dublin and Rome in fulfilment of his duties.
“It is the best that the Holy See could have hoped for in terms of a non-resident ambassador since he will be working from Iveagh House (the Foreign Ministry) and not from a third country”, an informed diplomatic source told Vatican Insider.
Born in London on 29 April 1954, to Irish immigrant parents, Cooney graduated from the University of Keele, England, with an honours degree in Politics and History, and then joined the Irish Civil Service.
Married to Geraldine O’Kelly (they have four grown-up children), Cooney is a practising Catholic and comes to his new post with the highest professional credentials and an impressive career history.
He began his service to the Irish Republic in 1974 as an official in the Department for Agriculture, and five years later moved to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. 
Significantly, he comes with previous experience of the Vatican, having served as Secretary at Ireland’s Embassy to the Holy See from 1981 to 1985. It was his first diplomatic posting.
Over the years he has served in Irish diplomatic missions to Austria, France, the OECD, and the European Union in Brussels.
While working in the Department for Foreign Affairs, he made an important contribution to the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement which opened the path to peace in Northern Ireland, so much so that US Senator George Mitchell described him as one of the two “unsung heroes of the peace process.”
From the year 2000, he served as Political Director in Foreign Affairs, and thus the key foreign policy adviser to the Government, before going to New York as Ireland’s Permanent Representative (Ambassador) to the United Nations.   

In 2007, the Irish Government appointed him as Ambassador to the United Kingdom, and in December 2008 nominated him as Secretary-General to the Department for Foreign Affairs, a post he still holds. 
Described as “a straight arrow” by those who know him, the 57 year-old Cooney is a man who likes to talk straight and work with transparency and integrity.
He will present his Letters of Credence to Pope Benedict XVI in the New Year.