The decision by the Irish Government to axe its embassy in The Vatican has been described by commentators has having landmark significance. It is proposed that the ambassador responsible for this relationship will be resident in Dublin, a move that The Vatican will view as impairing its prestige and significance.
The decision has been cast in context of saving the cash strapped exchequer money and that this particular embassy offers no economic return.
However, if the decision is to be seen purely in this context there must be other non-performing absorbers of Irish exchequer resources that could also be shutter – such as the Irish Red Cross.
But the closure of this embassy marks an episode of diplomatic failure of the highest order. By not contributing to the deliberations of The Murphy Commission into clerical sex abuse of children the Apostolic Nuncio denied the Vatican an opportunity to put its perspective on the record. The Irish side could have been more muscular in their reaction when it became clear what the Vatican was up to.
The history of this unique diplomatic relationship will provide scholars and diplomats with fertile scope for far-reaching research into the genesis, objectives, efficiency and effectiveness of modern international diplomacy.
The Irish Government made strenuous and painstaking efforts to have a residential diplomatic relationship at ambassadorial level in place by 24 June 1929 to coincide with the celebration of the centenary of Catholic Emancipation that day in the Phoenix Park. Various extravagant inducements were advanced including the provision of an official residence in the Park, ‘next to that of the King’s representative’ and the likelihood of a new Nuncio being centre stage before a potential audience of up to 700,000 devotees at the celebration.
Pope Pius XI did not, however, appoint the first Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland in the modern era, an Irish born Franciscan called Paschal Robinson, until December 1929. His Irish counterpart was Charles Bewley, a member of the renowned Dublin Quaker family.
The only prior diplomatic relationship between Ireland and The Holy See was when Pope Innocent X sent Archbishop Rinuccini, a personal friend, to the Confederation of Kilkenny in 1645. But Pope Pius XI was apparently anxious in 1929 not to distress his relationship with King George V, the British Commonwealth and the predominant influence then of British clergy in The Vatican.
When Earnest Blythe, Minister for Finance sought a supplementary estimate of £39,726 to cover the cost of this new embassy and others France and Germany in June 1930 he stated that the objective of the diplomatic relationship with The Holy See was not only to acknowledge ‘the religious Head of the vast majority of the Irish race, but also of the oldest and most glorious monarchy in the world’.
When Most Reverend Robinson died on 27 August 1948 in the Phoenix Park after 18 years as Nuncio he was accorded a full Irish State funeral
How many other cash strapped states will follow the Irish example?