Austerity bites for country’s diplomats

The days of chauffeur-driven cars and Ferrero Rocher chocolate delights are over for Ireland’s ambassadors.

Going, going, gone is the era when consular staff were ferried around in diplomatic-plated vehicles.

Instead, Ireland’s top envoys will have to brave public transport and hop on a bus or train when travelling to work and living abroad.

Missions are being shrunk and diplomats sent home as calculator-carrying officials in Iveagh House in Dublin move to cut spending on overseas work.

Details obtained by the Irish Examiner from the Department of Foreign Affairs show that over €750,000 will be saved per year by calling some diplomats home, downsizing accommodation for heads of mission, and taking away their official cars or drivers.

The department oversees 73 missions abroad, with some are being downsized and others having their privileges reduced.

Official cars for ambassadors, and drivers in some cases, have been removed in capital cities Riga (Latvia), Tallinn (Estonia), and Bratislava (Slovakia) within the last 18 months.

The ambassador’s right to an official car in Slovakia was only removed in the last few weeks.

Department secretary general David Cooney recently told an Oireachtas committee hearing that ambassadors could rely on public transport where cities were safe: “We have removed a number of state cars in diplomatic missions. In a number of smaller EU countries, we have constructed a new, leaner model of representation. Where it is possible to do so, we have gone down to one-diplomat missions. We have got rid of large residences.

“Ambassadors live in modest apartments and do not have cars. There are now a number of missions with no car. That only works in a small country with a reasonable public transport system and no security issues.”

Mr Cooney said that a car in an embassy was also not just used just to “chauffeur the ambassador around”.

“It is the messenger vehicle for the embassy. It goes to the foreign ministry, makes deliveries, collects documents and so on. It is a multi-purpose vehicle.”

The details obtained from the department show that Riga, Tallinn, Luxembourg, and Edinburgh have all been made one-diplomat or “lighter model” missions along with Nicosia (Cyprus) and Valletta (Malta).

The newly opened Irish consulate in Atlanta, US, has also been turned into a one-diplomat mission.

Several ambassadors have also had their grades changed and there are plans to downsize residences for ambassadors as soon as contractual leasing arrangements permit it.

The reduction in ambassadorial perks and diplomatic numbers abroad comes after embassies were closed to East Timor, Iran, and the Vatican this year to help save costs.

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