Ireland's new ambassador to Holy See meets Pope Francis

Emma Madigan become Ireland's first female ambassador to Vatican

Ireland's new resident ambassador to the Holy See Emma Madigan presented her credentials to Pope Francis on 11 November.

In addition to becoming the first Irish woman to hold the position, the arrival of Ambassador Madigan is significant in that she re-establishes Ireland's resident diplomatic links with the Vatican following the Irish government's controversial closure of its embassy to the Holy See three years ago.

Greeting Pope Francis in fluent Italian, Ambassador Madigan conveyed greetings on behalf of the president, the government and the Irish people. During the private meeting she updated the pontiff on developments in Ireland, including the recent talks in Northern Ireland, and the government's continued priorities of combating poverty and hunger.

Ireland's embassy to the Holy See was shut down in November 2011, when Benedict XVI was still pope, over what the Irish government described as cost cutting measures. It argued that the Vatican embassy, which was established in 1929, was the only Irish mission in the world that did not have trade, consular or EU duties, and that its closure would save the Irish government some €1.25 million over a full year.

The decision followed the Irish prime minister Enda Kenny's unprecedented attack on the Vatican over its alleged cover-up of clerical child sex abuse in Ireland but the government denied there was any connection between the dispute and the embassy's closure. However the move was interpreted by many as an insult to the Holy See, and marked an all-time low in the once rosy relations between Ireland and the Vatican.

Ireland's new ambassador is a career diplomat with a degree in history and Italian, and she has served in the Irish diplomatic service for the past 14 years, in New York, Chicago and Boston. She takes over from David Cooney who served as non-resident ambassador since the retirement of Ireland's last resident ambassador Noel Fahey in June 2011.

It is believed that Cooney, who is secretary general at Ireland's department for foreign affairs, played an important role in the reopening of the embassy and the restoration of a resident ambassador. Pressure from Irish members of parliament, as well as skillful diplomatic negotiating by the papal nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, are also considered to be responsible for the decision.

The new “one-person” mission will be housed in "modest" office accommodation, according to Ireland's department of foreign affairs, and will be separate to the Irish embassy to Italy, which is located at Villa Spada on the Gianicolo hill and was once home to Ireland's embassy to the Holy See.

In late 2012 the Irish embassy to Italy moved from its central location at Piazza Campitelli to Via Giacomo Medici on the Gianicolo hill. In early 2013 the extensively-renovated Villa Spada became the official residence of the Irish ambassador to Italy, who left behind the former residence on Via di Valle delle Camene, near the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Piazza Campitelli building and former ambassador’s residence were both rented by the Irish state.