DUBLIN - Ireland will close its embassy to the Vatican, one of the Catholic country's oldest missions, to help meet its fiscal goals under an EU-IMF bailout, the government said on Thursday, prompting criticism from the Church's top man in Ireland.
Relations between the Irish government and the Vatican, once traditional allies, are at an all-time low over the Church's handling of sex abuse cases. But Eamon Gilmore, the minister for foreign affairs, denied the embassy closure was linked.
"That was not a consideration," Gilmore told state broadcaster RTE. "Our diplomatic relations with the Vatican will continue and they are valued."
The head of the Catholic Church in Ireland criticised the move and said he was profoundly disappointed.
"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," Cardinal Sean Brady said in a statement.
"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."
The Vatican recalled its ambassador to Ireland in July after Prime Minister Enda Kenny accused the Holy See of obstructing investigations into sexual abuse by priests.
Gilmore said he did not expect the Vatican now to close its mission in Dublin.
"The fact that we have chosen to close our mission in the Vatican and to have it serviced from Dublin doesn't necessarily mean that we won't have a Papal Nuncio here," he said.
Ireland is closing three embassies as part of the overhaul, including missions in Iran and Timor Leste, which will save the country 1.25 million euros ($1.725 million) a year.
In a statement, Gilmore said the embassy to the Holy See yielded no economic return. It was established in 1929 at a time when Ireland's only other diplomatic missions were to Washington, London and the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations.