THE Department of Foreign Affairs is paying a staggering €46,000-a-month for a residence for the Irish Ambassador to Japan.
The colossal rental fee, which comes to more than €550,000 each year, is paid for a property in the upmarket Tokyo suburb of Moto-Azabu.
It is located in the embassy belt in Minato City where rental costs are at a premium and is by far the most expensive ambassadorial residence leased by the Irish government.
Although property prices in Tokyo are high, the rental figure for the property is still astronomical.
On one of the city’s best known luxury rental websites Century 21, the single most expensive property listed costs €33,000 per month … 30% less than the Irish Ambassador’s residence.
The revelation was made in an article I did yesterday for the Irish Mail on Sunday yesterday for which I took a certain amount of criticism on Twitter.
One described it as “sensationalist nonsense”, another asked if I wanted ambassadors to live in a shed at a roundabout, because apparently to question such extraordinary payments displays no understanding of what is required from our diplomatic network.
One pointed to criticism of St Patrick’s Day as being in a similar tabloid vein.
When I explained how St Patrick’s Day trips in 2007 had cost €500,000 and by 2010 were down to €200,000 – because of media scrutiny – and with no discernible impact on our diplomatic relations … there was no response.
Following the story, the Department of Foreign Affairs has now confirmed it is actively seeking to buy a residence in Tokyo because the rental payments are so extraordinarily high.
In all, more than €4 million was spent last year on a network of homes for ambassadors and consul generals around the world in cities where the state does not actually own a building.
Details of the individual rents of each of the properties were released following an FOI request.
However, the Department of Foreign Affairs refused to release the rental agreements for the properties saying that they were commercially sensitive.
That means it’s not possible to discover how long the leases are for, who the landlord is, and whether penalties would apply if the state tried to extricate itself from the costliest ones.
The ambassadorial residence in Tokyo was more than twice as expensive as any of the other properties, according to the records.
The next highest rent was paid for a home for the Consul General in New York.
That property is located on UN Plaza directly beside the headquarters of the United Nations in midtown Manhattan.
A residence for the Ambassador to Singapore is costing the Irish taxpayer €20,050 every month. It is situated on Peirce Hill, one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in the city.
Renting a house in the Swiss city of Geneva is costing €15,925 in rent each month. The house is on upmarket Rue de Moillebeau and overlooks the city’s famous Parc de Trembley.
Just over €10,000 a month is also paid in rent for the official residence in Helsinki while another €10,000 gets paid out each month for a home for the Ambassador in the Polish capital Warsaw.
In at least half a dozen other cities – including two in Brussels, Bucharest, Rome, Vienna, Paris, and Vienna – the state is paying between €5,000 and €9,000 per month.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said that to “fulfil [their] objectives” they needed to be based in the main capitals and economic hubs.
They said: “Because of the economic and strategic nature of these cities the cost of operating in them is high, in particular rental rates.
“The Department always seeks to ensure value for money in all its operations and in particular rental agreements.
“The Department has commenced an exercise to look at how it can convert rental payments into long term assets in these locations which are strategic partners for Ireland.”
They said the heads of each embassy or consulate were required to negotiate savings with landlords and agents before signing any rental agreements.
In the Estonian capital Tallinn, the embassy and ambassadorial residence moved into the same building and that cut costs from €17,235 a month to €11,295.
Similarly, in New York, the Consul General moved to a new residence which brought rent there down from €29,022 a month in 2015 to €21,319 this year.
Over the past four years, the Department has paid out €16.7 million in rent for diplomatic residences with the bill highest in 2013.
The Department said they had a long list of requirements for suitable homes for their ambassadors around the globe.
The houses are subject to inspection and vetting “with regard to … suitability, adequacy, value for money from a representational perspective and its capacity to host promotional and official events”.
They also said they needed to be situated in secure areas and in general close to the city centre.
“The complex international security environment in which we operate also requires that we ensure the protection of our staff, their families and visitors to the residences and is fundamental to the duty of care of this Department,” they said.
A version of this article with additional details on the Tokyo property originally appeared in the Irish Mail on Sunday. The full FOI release is below