Gilmore denies secular crusade in Rome

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has denied that Labour has a secular agenda which drove the decision to close the Vatican embassy.

Mr Gilmore insisted the desire to save money lay behind the closure of the embassy, not anything else.

Asked about former diplomat Sean Donlon’s criticism of the decision, Mr Gilmore said it was a free country and people were entitled to express their views.

In an interview in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, Mr Donlon, former secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said diplomacy should be intensified rather than reduced at times of difficulty between states.

Mr Donlon also rejected the suggestion that the embassy was closed on cost grounds, saying it was clearly a direct consequence of the fall-out from the Cloyne Report into clerical child sex abuse.

The closure has caused some political difficulty for Mr Gilmore, with Fine Gael backbenchers critical of his decision and some Labour TDs unhappy with the way the issue was handled.

But questioned about the issue yesterday, Mr Gilmore insisted there would be no reversal of the move.

“First of all, the decision is not going to be reversed. What I did say when the decision was made was that we would keep all of our diplomatic missions under review, as we will. When the economic circumstances improve, I hope to be in a position to be opening and reopening embassies.”

He denied that his party had a secular agenda which had driven the decision.

“No, there isn’t a secular agenda here. The decision in relation to embassies was based on the fact that as a department, we have to make savings.

“The money is one part of it; the other part of it is personnel. We have a small diplomatic team. We can’t spread ourselves too thinly.

“We have the presidency of the EU next year so we have to put a lot of our resources and personnel into EU activity.”

Asked about Mr Donlon’s comments, Mr Gilmore replied: “People are entitled to express their opinion on it. It’s a democratic, free country and long may that continue — I’ve no problem at all with people expressing their point of view on it.”

Mr Gilmore also rejected suggestions that his department had originally only targeted embassies in East Timor and Iran for closure and that he had personally added the Vatican at a later stage.

“The final decision on the embassies to be recommended to Government for closure was a decision that I made, but the Holy See was always on the department’s own consideration.

“I know there was some speculation at the weekend that it wasn’t and that I added it — that’s not the case. The embassy to the Holy See was under consideration for some time.”

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