|Ireland will move its Italian embassy into the villa currently used by its Vatican staff [GALLO/GETTY]
Ireland has announced that it is closing its embassies to the Vatican, Iran and Timor Leste, as part of efforts to slash spending in line with its international bailout last year.
Eamon Gilmore, Ireland's foreign minister, said on Friday the diplomatic posts were shut down on Friday to help meet its fiscal goals under an EU and IMF bailout.
He said a review determined that Ireland's embassies to the three countries offered the least returns in foreign investment and denied that Dublin's weakened relations with the Catholic Church, which governs the Vatican state, played a role in its choice of cuts.
"The government believes that Ireland's interests with the Holy See can be sufficiently represented by a non-resident ambassador," Gilmore said, suggesting that a diplomat based in another European country would be assigned the Vatican brief too.
Gilmore says Ireland will move its Italian embassy into the villa currently used by its Vatican staff, a move that could save Irish taxpayers about $3.3m annually.
Ireland has been cutting embassies and diplomatic staff since 2009 as part of the country's struggle to avoid bankruptcy because of a massive bank-bailout programme.
It has left its Vatican ambassador post unfilled since June
In Rome, Italy's capital, the Vatican likewise dismissed concerns that the Irish were sending another rebuke to the Catholic Church over its cover-ups of decades of child abuse in Ireland.
"What is important are the diplomatic relations between the Holy See and states, and these aren't in question concerning Ireland," said Reverend Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.
But Catholic leaders in Ireland expressed dismay and pleaded for an early reversal of the decision. They noted that the Vatican was among the first foreign governments to recognise Irish independence in the 1920s from Britain.
"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," said Cardinal Sean Brady, leader of Ireland's four million Catholics.
In July, Enda Kenny, Ireland's prime minister, condemned the Vatican and accused it of trying to undermine a string of Irish investigations into the scale of child abuse and its concealment.
The Vatican published a detailed rebuttal two