The Foreign Office reminded all staff last week of the ‘proper use’ of diplomatic pouches – a day after it emerged the special pouches had been used to send novelty socks to New York.
The circular also preceded the publication of information from the department showing that almost 2.7 million euros had been spent commuting between Irish embassies since 2017.
Diplomatic bags enjoy a special status under international law and are generally used to transport important objects and documents. They cannot be opened or detained and their mail enjoys diplomatic protection.
Questions were raised over the use of the pouches by officials last week when it was reported that a diplomatic bag had been used to send a batch of novelty socks costing €4,545 from
Dublin to New York as part of Ireland’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.
Figures released by Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney on Wednesday show that 2.66 million euros have been spent transporting diplomatic bags between the state and its network of 97 diplomatic and consular missions abroad since 2017.
The annual cost soared nearly 30% to €610,731 in 2019, at the height of the UN Security Council’s campaign, when diplomatic pouches were used to send goods overseas.
In one case, 22 empty gift bags were sent from the department’s headquarters at Iveagh House to its United Nations mission in New York. The gift bags had previously been delivered to Iveagh House by a supplier in New York.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said the figures suggest the use of diplomatic pouches for the UN Security Council campaign cost the taxpayer more than €100,000. “It appears that sending out novelty socks and other items related to the UN bid has cost the public over €100,000. ‘adopt much stricter rules to ensure bags are only used for necessary official work,’ Mr Murphy said.
In his response to a parliamentary question from the Dublin South-West TD, Minister Coveney said a general reminder on the ‘proper use’ of the diplomatic bag was issued to all staff on February 23 – the day after where it was reported that they had been used to send socks to the United States.
A total of €478,146 has been spent on diplomatic pouches in 2020, and a further €565,383 in 2021. Additional costs of €85,112 have been incurred so far this year.
“Under the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic and Consular Relations 1961, the Foreign Office operates a diplomatic pouch service to forward mail, equipment and supplies to and from Ireland’s network of diplomatic missions and consular,” Mr Coveney said in his response. to the parliamentary question. “The department permits occasional use of the service for the receipt and transmission by posted personnel of personal items, including small parcels and letters.
The use of the diplomatic pouch is controlled by the staff… and by the heads of mission, in order to ensure compliance with the terms of the summons. A general reminder on the proper use of the diplomatic bag was issued to all staff on February 23, 2022.
The novelty sock controversy is the second to hit the Foreign Office in relation to the bid for membership of the UN Security Council. Staff members were pictured drinking ‘sparkling wine’ celebrating Ireland’s election to the group in June 2020, a gathering which an internal review found seriously breached COVID-19 guidelines in force at the time.