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Villa at center of schism

[caption id="attachment_67994" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="The Villa Spada."]


Nice digs if you could lay hands on the front door key. For 65 years the Villa Spada on Gianicolo Hill in Rome has been home to the Irish ambassador to the Vatican.

Well, not anymore in the wake of the decision by the Irish government to pull its on-site representation to the Hole See in favor of an accredited ambassador based elsewhere. The Vatican, according to reports, is very unhappy with the decision.

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The building was purchased by the Irish government in 1946 for $150,000, a tidy sum in those days and a big investment by an Irish exchequer that was still reeling from the effects of the war years, or the "Emergency" as it was called in the then Free State.

Irish governments risked a lot when shelling out that kind of money. A government actually fell more than a decade later when a wad of cash was paid to purchase the Upper East Side residence of the newly minted Irish ambassador to the United Nations.

As for the Villa Sprada? Well, it's going to stay in Irish hands, but will now be the residence of the Irish ambassador to Italy.

And as for the relationship between Dublin and the Holy See, well, here's what religious affairs writer Paddy Agnew had to say in the Irish Times: "The decision to close the Irish Embassy to the Holy See clearly represents good housekeeping but, equally, it has huge historical and political significance.

"At the end of a summer marked by unprecedented tensions between Ireland and the Vatican over the Cloyne report, the decision represents a significant 'cooling' in the once close and intimate Dublin-Rome relations."

Meanwhile, the secretary general at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin is acting for now as long distance Irish ambassador to the Vatican. This means a very long distance relationship indeed, one stretching from St. Peter's to St. Stephen's Green.

The current secretary general is David Cooney who was earlier assigned to the Irish UN Mission in New York.

The new arrangement can be clearly seen by checking the department's website which includes a list of Irish embassies and consulates around the world. Run down to V and the viewer will see Vanuatu, Venezuela and Vietnam. But no Vatican.


Rumbles in the J-1 Visa program. According to reports, the State Department will not enroll any new organizations to serve as sponsors for overseas students, Irish included, as possible changes to the summer work and travel program are studied.

The J-1 has been a staple for Irish college students for years and they do well because they tend to have longer summer vacations than their American counterparts.

However, the program came under a harsh spotlight in August when hundreds of students staged a walkout to protest their work conditions at a plant packing Hershey's chocolates in Palmyra, Pa. After the Hershey meltdown, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered a full review of the program.