Ireland reopens Vatican embassy as relations thaw

(Photo: REUTERS / Osservatore Romano)Pope Benedict XVI meets David Cooney (L), the new non-resident ambassador from Ireland to the Vatican, during a meeting at Clementine Hall in Vatican May 4, 2012. REUTERS / Osservatore Romano

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland is reopening its embassy to the Vatican more than two years after shutting it down in the wake of sex abuse cases, in a sign relations may be thawing.

In a huge blow to the Holy See's prestige, staunchly Catholic Ireland closed its embassy to the Vatican in 2011, when relations soured over Church handling of sex abuse cases.

The Church's once dominant role has faded in Ireland since revelations of rape and beatings by members of religious orders and the priesthood. Prime Minister Enda Kenny delivered a once-unthinkable rebuke to the Vatican over its handling of the scandals.

Dublin, which at the time portrayed the closure as part of a broader costcutting programme, will now re-open a one-person embassy to the Holy See to focus on international development and issues such as poverty eradication, hunger and human rights, Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore said in a statement.

"Over the past five years our diplomats have been tasked with the frontline role in restoring Ireland's once-tattered reputation abroad, and in championing our economic cause," said Gilmore, who is also deputy prime minister.

It will also establish embassies in the fast-growing economies of Thailand and Indonesia and newest European Union member Croatia, and consulates in financial hubs Hong Kong, Sao Paolo and Austin, Texas.

Ireland will set up an embassy in Kenya to support an aid programme there and is also switching some staff elsewhere, including closing a mission in Lesotho and transferring functions to South Africa. ($1 = 0.7373 euros)

(Reporting by Sam Cage; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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