From Mr Donal O’Driscoll SIR – We have been told that the reason the Vatican embassy was being closed was on economic grounds (Report, November 11). This is not the first time we have been told a whopper by Eamon Gilmore, leader of the Labour Party.
Embassies are maintained for a variety of reasons, of which economics is only one. For obvious reasons, the embassy at the Vatican had never been justified on economic grounds.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs website we have almost 60 embassies (excluding honorary consulates, etc) abroad. This includes 26 in EU countries and eight in African countries (excluding South Africa). There are also diplomatic offices at the UN, OSCE, NATO and OECD. The staffing at most embassies is quite small, the biggest being America, Britain, China and India. The average number of (Irish) support staff is two, and the Vatican, apparently, nil. Following Lisbon II, Baroness Ashton is now EU Minister for Foreign Affairs and speaks for all member states. There is thus now no diplomatic role for almost all inter-EU ambassadors, and no need for prestigious premises. Many EU foreign affairs departments are concerned about this development. The trade and personnel functions in each could be handled by, for example, an assistant principal officer, at much less cost.
In Rome, however, it is obvious that the government is closing the wrong embassy. Italy is in the EU and the Vatican is not. The government seems to be unaware of the reasons for the Vatican embassy, and for the Vatican itself, in the first place and seems to have closed the embassy as an act of anti-Catholic bigotry.
With regard to the eight embassies in African countries, foreign aid is distributed largely through these (as well as through agencies, such as Trócaire and others). Such aid amounts to €800m (£688m). This aid is substantially the lifeboat of the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is probable that economic grounds do not feature here in many cases. So much for the justification for many of Ireland’s embassies.
And the previous whopper? Following the Lisbon I referendum, Mr Gilmore stated that the “people had spoken”: this was his “public posture”. But very shortly afterwards, according to Wikileaks and the US Embassy (and an observant Gene Kerrigan), the straight-talking Mr Gilmore fully expected, and had every intention of supporting, a Lisbon II. And now, within days of the election of Labour’s Michael D Higgins, we learn that the Vatican embassy is being, or has been, closed.
Insofar as we have swallowed this, Mr Gilmore is right in one thing: taking us for fools.
Yours faithfully, DONAL O’DRISCOLL Dublin, Republic of Ireland