The Vatican has been told to relax its rules on embassy requirements if it wants Ireland to retain a presence at the Holy See.
As the row over shutting down the Vatican embassy went on, Tánaiste and Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore said a compromise could be achieved.
The Tánaiste, who is under fire from Fine Gael’s backbenchers over the situation, said if the requirement that the Vatican embassy be housed in a separate building was changed, the decision on its closure could be reviewed.
Mr Gilmore denied he had added the Vatican to a proposed embassy closure list at a late stage in the cost-cutting process due to a “liberal agenda” within the Labour Party. He insisted a number of options had been under consideration by the foreign affairs department and the Vatican had been on the closure list from early on.
Mr Gilmore moved to appease critics by stressing the closure could be reviewed when the economic situation improves.
The decision to close the Vatican mission, along with the embassy in Iran and a representative office in East Timor, was announced last November with the resulting saving of €1.25 million a year given as the reason.
The Government denied any link with the Taoiseach’s stinging reprimand of the Vatican’s attitude to clerical child abuse in Ireland, which Enda Kenny voiced in the Dáil last July.
Mr Gilmore insisted that Ireland’s interests would continue to be served by a non-resident ambassador, and that the Holy See embassy yielded no economic return at a time of financial crisis.
However, Mr Gilmore’s call for the Vatican to drop its insistence that a Vatican embassy has to be housed in a separate building and be occupied by a separate ambassador is unlikely to be greeted with enthusiasm by the Catholic Church which guards the status of the tiny Vatican City as separate from Italy.
Figures released under freedom of information legislation show that the Irish embassy to the Vatican cost €589,300 to run in 2011, with €15,622 spent on receptions, €1,584 on travel and €344,578 on salaries.
The total bill for Irish embassies abroad came in at €42.6m for last year.
The embassy closure provoked anger within the Fine Gael parliamentary party, which passed a motion expressing disquiet at the decision. Junior foreign affairs minister Lucinda Creighton said she hoped the embassy would reopen within the next two years.
Mr Gilmore has continually stressed that the matter was a Government decision, not his alone. The department said it was a matter for the Vatican to decide on what kind of arrangements they deemed fit.
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