Moves afoot to re-open Vatican Embassy?

Co-location plan may see end of affair, writes Michael Kelly

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has given the strongest indication yet that he is willing to reverse his decision to downgrade diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

Mr Gilmore said this week he would react positively if the Holy See were willing to consider allowing Ireland to site both its embassies to Italy and the Vatican in the one location.

The sectarian wing of the Labour party was delighted when the Government announced that it was closing the embassy in 2011. Their actions have resembled those of generals fighting the last war, and they won’t be pleased about the embassy re-opening in any configuration.

Face-saving way

It’s a far from ideal option to present to the Vatican and one that doesn’t really take account of the unique nature of diplomatic relations with the Holy See. At the same time, from a political point of view, Mr Gilmore needs a face-saving way to re-open an Embassy to the Vatican which doesn’t look like a complete reversal of his 2011 decision.


The Holy See is likely to react with caution to any proposal that would see two ambassadors situated in the same building. Having two embassies in one is an unusual situation and the Vatican is likely to seek strong assurances from the Government about the independence and autonomy of any future Irish diplomatic mission to the Holy See. If, for example, the new arrangement resembled the Embassy to the Holy See being seen as an office within the Embassy to Italy, the Vatican would surely object to such an intolerable arrangement.

Mr Gimore must be careful not to try and give the impression that there are different layers of embassies with some deserving autonomy and others acting as an off-shoot.

Britain, which has increased its diplomatic presence at the Holy See, houses its Embassy to the Vatican in the same compound as the British Embassy to Italy. The United States recently announced that that it too would move the Vatican Embassy to a larger secure compound in Rome that houses the Embassy to Italy and the US Mission to the United Nations offices, Politico reported.

Both Britain and the US have cited legitimate security concerns and the British Ambassador to the Holy See maintains an entirely different residence at which to host receptions. The same will be true of the US representative to the Vatican after their Embassy moves to the secure compound.

The Holy See remains an important global player on many fronts. Mr Gilmore’s decision to close the Embassy dented Ireland’s international reputation among other countries. The re-opening of an Embassy to the Vatican is an opportunity for Ireland to move towards a more mature relationship with the Holy See and the wider Catholic Church built on mutual respect.

Writing this week, Britain’s Ambassador to the Holy See Nigel Baker observed that: “Yes, the Holy See is not a standard power. It is not a nation state. Yet its global impact is extensive, its voice respected, and its influence real.

“If we did not have an Embassy to the Holy See, I would want to know the reason why”.

Many Irish people have been asking the same question of our own Government.