Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Ireland to reopen Vatican embassy

Ireland is to reopen its embassy in the Vatican
Ireland is to reopen its embassy in the Vatican

Ireland is to reopen its embassy in the Vatican two years after it was shut for cost reasons.

The Holy See in Rome is one of five new embassies to be set up including missions in Bangkok in Thailand, Jakarta in Indonesia, the Croatian capital Zagreb and Nairobi in Kenya.

Three new consuls will also be opened as part of Ireland's revamped diplomatic operations, including bases in Hong Kong, Austin in Texas and Sao Paulo in Brazil.

Plans to reopen the embassy in the Holy See has been on the table for months. The decision to shut it in November 2011 was seen in some quarters as a snub to the Catholic Church in the wake of a series of damning reports of the mishandling of clerical abuse.

The renewed presence in the Vatican has been described by the Department of Foreign Affairs as a scaled-back, one-person embassy with a focus on international development.

"This will enable Ireland to engage directly with the leadership of Pope Francis on the issues of poverty eradication, hunger and human rights," the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, said the overall expansion is an investment in Ireland's future.

"Over the past five years our diplomats have been tasked with the frontline role in restoring Ireland's once-tattered reputation abroad, and in championing our economic cause," he said.

"And they have been hugely successful in doing that - both in European capitals, influencing key decisions at European Council level, and in major cities, organisations and political capitals around the world.

"This expansion of the embassy network will help to bolster that effort, and, crucially, to drive Ireland's economic recovery which has been export-led. It will equip Ireland to take advantage of emerging opportunities and will provide certainty for business that resources will be in place to support them in key markets and regions."

Ireland has 300 diplomats in 73 locations abroad allowing relations with 176 states. Opening the new missions is expected to cost 4.7m euro (£3.9m) a year.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said Thailand and Indonesia were selected because of their fast growing economies while Hong Kong and Sao Paolo because of the financial and business hubs Texas for its booming tech hub.

Croatia recently became the 28th member state of the European Union.

The department said further diplomatic links were needed in Nairobi because of the work of Ireland's aid programme, Irish Aid, which will help to accelerate the planned transition from aid to trade in Africa.

Despite the expansion some missions will be scaled back or closed with the embassy in Lesotho to shut and the embassy in South Africa assuming responsibility for the kingdom. T he embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, will be downsized.

Elsewhere, the ex isting Irish Aid office in Freetown, Sierra Leone, will be upgraded to embassy status.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said re-opening the Holy See embassy on a smaller scale was a very constructive exercise and would enhance relations with the Vatican.

The senior cleric acknowledged that the Government remained committed to re-opening the mission when the economic situation allowed.

Archbishop Martin also said that Pope Francis has dedicated himself to being a strong voice for fighting poverty and the Vatican remains an important place of interchange on questions of global development.

Cardinal Sean Brady, the Primate of All Ireland, said diplomatic relations between Ireland and the Vatican remained productive even when the embassy was closed.

"Based on our shared commitment to justice, peace, eradication of poverty, international development, and the protection of the environment, I now look forward to ongoing and fruitful co-operation between Ireland and the Holy See for the common good," he said.

Tributes have also been paid to the work of David Cooney, Ireland's non-resident ambassador to the Holy See, over the last two years.

Archbishop Charles Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, said: "It is an excellent decision for the people of Ireland and will be beneficial to Ireland in making its distinctive and important contribution to international relations. We are all grateful to those who worked so hard to make this day possible."

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