Vatican embassy among cheapest to run

A total of 69 Irish embassies cost the State more than €76m to run in 2011, but the Vatican embassy, controversially closed as a government money-saving measure, was among the cheapest.

In fact, Ireland’s most expensive foreign mission — its permanent representation to the EU in Brussels, run at a cost of €9.3m last year — came in more than 15 times higher than the €589,300 cost of the embassy to the Holy See.

Last weekend, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Vatican closure arose because of the “need to bring about greater savings”.

However, figures released under Freedom of Information legislation show that out of 69 embassies, the Vatican embassy barely scraped inside the top 50 in terms of running costs. Just 20 embassies cost less to run.

The annual wage bill for our embassies is €42.6m, hospitality costs totalled €1.8m, while travel costs amounted to €1.42m. Our best paid ambassadors took home €168,000.

Our embassy in London (€5.17m), the permanent representation to the United Nations in New York (€2.95m), and embassies in Tokyo (€2.77m) and Paris (€2.65m) were among the top five most expensive.

The Armagh and Belfast embassies cost over €2.7m to run last year.

The Irish Embassy in Washington spent most on hospitality, with a bill for €130,791, while the Consulate General in New York was second-highest, spending €94,173 on functions and receptions.

The least expensive overseas mission was the Vietnamese capital Hanoi — costing just €172,000, with diplomats spending nothing on travel or receptions.

The figures show four senior Irish diplomats earn more than €168,000 a year, just below the salary of a Cabinet minister.

They are Irish Ambassador in London Bobby McDonagh; Anne Anderson, Ireland’s permanent representation to the United Nations in New York; Irish Ambassador to Denmark Brendan Scannell; and Ireland’s ambassador in Washington, Michael Collins.

A further 24 Irish ambassadors are earning between €127,000 and €146,000, as assistant secretaries of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Ambassadors are also entitled to an official residence, in some cases a State car and chauffeur.

Minister of State for Public Service Reform Brian Hayes said embassy costs had to be cut and the Government was working to reduce expenditure in all sectors. So far, it has closed three embassies — in the Vatican, Iran and in Timor Leste — estimating the closures will save about €1.25m.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the Government’s decision to close the Vatican embassy was based on his recommendation and that when financial circumstances improve it will look at embassies again.

He said if the requirement that the Vatican embassy be housed separately was relaxed, the decision on its closure could be reviewed.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on foreign affairs and trade Seán Ó Fearghaíl said the spending, and salaries in particular, needed to be scrutinised.

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the running costs of its missions was down 13% since 2008.

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