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The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin.
Image: Leah Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Diplomat rents, the rising dollar and a Brexit-inspired passport boom behind DFA request for extra €50 million

The Department also looked for €2 million to bolster Ireland’s bid to become a member of the UN Security Council.
Jan 18th 2020, 8:00 AM 14,750 11

INCREASED RENTS FOR diplomats, the rising dollar, a Brexit-inspired passport boom, and Ireland’s bid for the UN Security Council were among the reasons given by the Department of Foreign Affairs as they sought an extra €50 million in funding for this year.

The Department were in the end granted an extra €21 million for their main operating budget, with the possibility of a further €2 million if Ireland gains a seat on the UN security council in elections this June.

Records obtained under FOI reveal how they had originally looked for €50.1 million to respond to Brexit, pursue the government’s Global Island strategy, and for paying contributions to international bodies like the UN.

‘Tight fiscal position’

Correspondence with the Department of Public Expenditure shows how they were cautioned this amount would be “challenging” especially given the “extremely tight fiscal position” ahead of Budget 2020.

In a submission last September, Foreign Affairs had said they were looking for €7.3 million to maintain a “strong and adequately resourced” network of embassies and missions around the world.

They explained how they had been badly hit by foreign exchange losses with the value of the euro against the dollar falling by almost a quarter over the past five years.

“The Department buys the equivalent of €50 million US Dollars annually,” they said, “this change has resulted in cost increases of circa €12 million [annually].”

They said the decline in sterling could have balanced it out but that much of their passport income comes in pounds. They had not therefore “got the full benefit” of the “favourable movements” of sterling.

The Department also said they were paying rent of €17.5 million for ambassadors and diplomats across the globe and were faced with increased lease costs in many countries.

Local staff costs were also rising with an “average cost of living pay increase of 3%” predicted.

Of the €7.3 million they had looked for overall in this category, €3 million was allocated in the budget.

UN Security Council

The Department also wanted €6.5 million to cover the cost of increased passport demand due to Brexit with applications from the U.K. and the North predicted to continue growing.

They said staff would be needed to operate telephone and online customer support with new passport applications considered “more complex than the more straightforward renewals”.

The department also said they wanted to avoid a repeat of major passport delays in 2018 which ended with “an appearance” before the Public Accounts Committee to explain what had happened.

Operating costs were also rising, and the Department said that any increase in the budget for the passport service would be cost neutral as income from applications rose.

Of the €6.5 million that was looked for, €2 million – or less than a third – was granted according to figures provided by the department.

Another €4 million was requested to continue running citizen and business information campaigns surrounding Brexit and its aftermath.

The Department said: “Following review internally in the Department and emerging clarity on Brexit timelines this request was reviewed and €2 million was provided in the Budget allocation.”

A one-off payment of €4 million was granted in full for Ireland’s participation in EXPO 2020, which will be held in Dubai this October.

According to the submission, this will involve “delivering a facility and event space in Dubai with appropriate activities to promote Ireland in this significant international forum”.

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The Department also looked for €2 million to bolster Ireland’s bid to become a member of the UN Security Council.

They said this would be used to support embassies in New York, Geneva, and also in Dublin to help mount a “strong and vigorous campaign”.

In a statement, the Department said these costs would only arise if Ireland was successful in its bid.

“As we will not know whether this funding will be required, it was agreed that this should not be provided at this stage,” they said.

Peacekeeping budget

A significant increase in Ireland’s contributions to international organisations was also predicted with the country’s fast-growing population and economy partly fuelling the rising costs.

The Department said the UN peacekeeping budget was particularly volatile with peacekeeping operations getting expanded and reduced.

In a statement, they said their budget for 2020 reflected the best estimate of how much Ireland would have to pay in contributions this year.

The Department added: “[Our] internal budgetary process commenced in August 2019 and an initial request to DPER [Dept of Public Expenditure] was submitted in early September 2019.

“The Department continued to work on refining and clarifying its Budget request right up until early October 2019.”

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Ken Foxe


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