Isolating an island

Olivia Van Walleghem discusses the recent closure of a number of Ireland’s embassies overseas and the affects this could have on the country.

Recently in Ireland many decisions, challenges, statements and new occurrences have rattled the public. This double dip recession has led to much more then a double dip into the public’s pockets.

Of late ‘An Bord Snip’, in one of its newest attempts to reign in on expenditure, has decided to close three embassies – namely the embassy to the Holy See, the embassy of Ireland in Iran, and the East-Timor embassy.  Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore’s justification for this harks back to the recession.

Maybe we need to remind ourselves of the point of an embassy in the first place. In essence it allows for representation in another country and encourages diplomatic relations and effective exchanges. In layman’s terms it is another social network which helps keep the peace and keep us informed. Embassies are a key resource in allowing information to flow freely. They establish a sense of cohesion between the different members of a common organisation.

The greatest fear is that, given the speed and apparent flippancy with which these changes were made, the “daoine daonna” haven’t seen the end of these radical cutbacks. One would fear that the government would continue to disproportionately eliminate other seemingly minor embassies, thus making Ireland more of an isolated island, separated not only by the Irish Sea but also by ambassadorial ignorance.

In ways it relates to the other topical issue of our Uachtarán na hEireann; how valuable is an embassy? Both the President and embassies are functions that appear, to the naked eye, to be serving only to fulfil a figurehead. Some may maintain that their role isn’t particularly valuable beyond the basic principle of having one in situ. However, there is convincing corroborative evidence to the contrary in both cases.

Our previous president went to great lengths to maintain peaceful relations in Northern Ireland and to enhance trade links for our country, which is fundamental in helping alleviate the pressures of the economic crisis. Overall she posed as a presentable, knowledgeable and personable ambassador to better the resources coming into Ireland, and the presentation of those that are here to be exploited.

In this same vein, embassies fulfil the vital role of maintaining relations, whatever that may entail. In a time when our economy is floundering, jobs are being decimated, and people are fed up, why on earth is it justifiable to knock those at the top with the ability to strive for better?

The government’s economic justification is falling on deaf ears and retains little credibility. In a fervent bid to answer the numerous questions regarding the closure of the embassies, the response given by the government was that “While the embassy to the Holy See is one of Ireland’s oldest economic missions, it yields no economic return”. Let’s turn to the other side of the argument – the religious implications and assumptions to be made from this latest move.

Catholicism is struggling in Ireland.  It would be the ultimate irony to pull the plug on our links to the Holy See when we need our faith most. Maintaining strong roots will be crucial in rebuilding an abashed and fraught nation, providing guidance to them during this difficult time. While not everyone shares a strong faith in the Catholic religion, it must still be given some credence.

Religion has always proved a steady backdrop throughout any period of great upheaval, providing solace and above all else continuous faith that improvement is on the horizon. There are those who will contend that even the church isn’t a viable backer, in particular in reference to the recent scandals in the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Regardless of religious or economic motives, it is imperative that the government sees, now more then ever, the value of keeping our channels of communication with the rest of the world open.