Saturday, February 18, 2012

An Irish honorary consul for the Vatican?

The Irish embassy to the Vatican, Via Giacomo Medici, Rome

The Irish government has decided to close its embassy to the Vatican, ostensibly for reasons of cost. Supporters of the Catholic church claim that it is, instead, a gesture of defiance on the part of the Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister), Eamonn Gilmore, who is on record as being a secularist, and made possible from a political point of view by the wholesale cover up of child sexual abuse by the Catholic church authorities, which had gone on for many years but has only come to light in relatively recent times.

Ireland has another embassy in Rome, to the Italian government. The Vatican has insisted that it should have a separate diplomatic mission on the grounds that it has been recognised by, among others, the United Nations, as a sovereign state. The totality of its territory is, of course, enclosed within the limits of the City of Rome and, to add anomaly to anomaly, the existing Irish embassy to the Vatican has always been situated, not in Vatican City, but in another part of Rome.

Many Roman Catholics in Ireland are not pleased about the closure of the embassy. This is reflected in the belated opposition of a number of Fine Gael back benchers, who are no doubt reflecting the views of their constituents.

Even those of us who have been campaigning for many years for the separation of church and state in Ireland can, of course, appreciate that Catholicism has been a major influence in Irish history and therefore a part of our culture, for better or worse. That cultural link will always be reflected in, for example, the names of certain notable times of the year, such as Christmas. After all, we have no problem in commemorating other, earlier, gods in some of the days of the week, such as Woden (Wednesday) and Thor, (Thursday). Maintaining an embassy to the Vatican for cultural reasons is in a different league, however. There is the cost, which is a duplication of the expense of maintaining that other Irish embassy in Rome. There is the fact that Catholicism is a religion, not actually another country, no matter what it may like to believe itself to be in this regard, and there is the little detail that the Irish embassy was never actually within Vatican City, indicating that all concerned were playing diplomatic games at the time of its inception.

The Vatican (population 860) is not unique in having an existence as a small, semi-autonomous entity in Europe. There are also The Principality of Monaco (population 35,000), The Republic of San Marino (population 32,000), and The Principality of Andorra (population 84,000), as examples. I owe this information to my son, Shane, who has politics in his degree and who works in Public Relations, as I do the fact that, in the case of Monaco, Ireland is represented by an Honorary Consul. We currently have no representation in Andorra or San Marino.

Wouldn’t the Monaco example be an excellent resolution to the current controversy with regard to the Vatican? An honorary consul to the Vatican. As Shane says, one of the cardinals could do it.


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