Dáil debate rages over Vatican embassy closure

Claims that keeping the Irish embassy in the Vatican open would help combat clerical child abuse were dismissed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

In fierce Dáil exchanges, the Taoiseach accused Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin of “hyping-up” the controversial move to shut-down the embassy to the Holy See.

Mr Martin branded the remarks “unworthy” and said he had rejected a similar move to close the embassy while he was Foreign Minister, and urged the Government to think again, stating that Irish officials in the Vatican could influence the Holy See’s attitude on many issues.

“Diplomacy is about far more than trade and economics, although trade and economics is extremely important in terms of our diplomatic outreach. To paraphrase Mr Seán Donlon, the retired and respected diplomat, one must be where policy is formulated to have an influence on the formulation of that policy,” Mr Martin said.

The Taoiseach accused the Fianna Fáil leader of merely following a “current trend” regarding opposition to the Vatican embassy closure.

“In respect of what Deputy Martin stated on the protection of children and the protection of children’s rights, and that it is necessary to have persons on the ground, we had persons on the ground in the Vatican for very many years and look what happened and what was allowed to happen,” Mr Kenny said.

The Taoiseach said the closure would be reviewed when economic conditions allowed, and if the Vatican relaxed its rules on representatives operating out of the existing embassy to Italy in Rome.

“The second most senior diplomatic person in the country has been assigned as a non-resident ambassador to the Vatican,” he added. Mr Kenny stressed that Pope Benedict would be received with “proper decorum” if he visits Ireland for the Eucharistic Congress.

Mr Martin insisted the estimated savings of €450,000 a year made by closing the embassy did not justify the move.

He called on Mr Kenny to listen to Fine Gael backbenchers, who he claimed were strongly opposed to the move and called for it to be reversed.

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