Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Taoiseach Edna Kenny
Following on my last post, I have been talking to a few people, some in the know, and it seems that the Irish government's action of closing the embassy and then appointing a civil servant in Dublin as the official delegate rather than appointing an ambassador, is as close as you can get to breaking diplomatic relations without actually doing it. So can we now presume that, for all intents and purposes, leaving aside the purely cosmetic, Ireland no longer has a meaningful diplomatic relationship with the Holy See? And if so where does that leave the faithful Roman Catholics who live in the territories of this state?
The structure of that last sentence is deliberate - will we see, albeit in a subtle way, a growing separation in the minds of our public representatives between citizenship of this state and membership of the Catholic Church? A separation which may cast a doubt on the loyalties of those who are Catholic to the Republic? It has happened many times before, and given that we have heard public representatives speak about the Church as a foreign institution in the last number of months, we are not too far from this attitude.
According to Reuters, an unnamed Vatican diplomat has said that the Holy See is "stunned" at the government's decision, and suggests that other countries will follow suit. To be honest I doubt that. Neither do I accept that this damages the Holy See's prestige in diplomatic circles. Given recent events, when Ireland made unfounded allegations against the Pope and the Holy See, it is Ireland that has lost prestige in diplomatic circles. I suspect this decision by the government will be seen as petulance on Ireland's part. As for Ireland being a "big Catholic country" - I really don't think we are anymore. I agree that Holy See did at one time, and indeed until recently, see Ireland as an ally and "semper fidelis", but I think, thanks to recent events both civil and ecclesiastical, it knows better now.
In terms of economic benefits. The embassy to the Holy See was the cheapest embassy in the diplomatic service. A friend texted me to tell me that the saving is the equivalent of only 3.2% of state funding of political parties in the country. Interesting; if we really want to save money, then, the state should stop making contributions to political parties! As a taxpayer (who has just paid his taxes), I resent the fact that my money is going to these political parties, particularly when most of these organisations despise my religious faith and make little of my vocation.
Here is the Cardinal's official statement:
Statement by Cardinal Séan Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, in response to the decision to close Ireland’s embassy to the Holy See
An Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Eamon Gilmore TD, phoned me this afternoon to inform me that the Irish Government has decided not to appoint a residential ambassador to the Holy See. The Tánaiste expressed the view that this was a regrettable but necessary decision in the light of the current economic situation and it is not related to recent exchanges between the Government and the Holy See.
I wish to express my profound disappointment at this decision which means that Ireland will be without a resident ambassador to the Holy See for the first time since diplomatic relations were established and envoys were exchanged between the two States in 1929. I know that many others will share this disappointment.
This decision seems to show little regard for the important role played by the Holy See in international relations and of the historic ties between the Irish people and the Holy See over many centuries.
It is worth recalling that for the new Irish State the opening of diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1929 was a very significant moment. It was very important in asserting the identity and presence of the Irish Free State internationally in view of the fact that Irish diplomatic representation abroad was then confined to the Legation in Washington, the Office of the High Commissioner in London, the Permanent Delegate to the League of Nations, and the Embassy to the Holy See.
I hope that despite this regrettable step, the close and mutually beneficial co-operation between Ireland and the Holy See in the world of diplomacy can continue – based on shared commitment to justice, peace, international development and concern for the common good.
I look forward to a time when the Government will again appoint a resident ambassador to the Holy See. I hope that today’s decision will be revisited as soon as possible and that it can be addressed at the next meeting of the Church-State structured dialogue.
See also David Quinn's response here. Garry O'Sullivan of The Irish Catholic has some good things to say in this interview on RTE Radio - one important point he makes: Ireland is not the centre of the world, neither the Holy See nor other sovereign states look to Ireland to see how they should behave.
The Thirsty Gargoyle has an excellent post on this issue, pointing out how Ireland will lose a great deal by this decision. The Holy See has one of the best informed services in the diplomatic world, able to use the network of bishops, priests and religious throughout the world: it has failed at times (ie Ireland), but when it works it is second to none. Another disturbing fact which the Gargoyle points out, in some parts of the world the Holy See is better placed to help Irish citizens than Ireland: we will be losing a valuable ally. This post is well worth reading.