Wear and tear on the carpets and sofas, overheated rooms, no room for hosting ministers … the downsides of Ireland’s €46,000-a-month ambassador’s residence in Tokyo

IT MAY be costing €46,000 in rent every month … but that does not mean the Department of Foreign Affairs have to be happy with their ambassadorial residence in Tokyo.

Documents obtained under FOI have revealed that the Department are trying to develop a new “Ireland House” in the city and have even been offered a cut-price deal on land by the Japanese government.

Records show that the current residence – located in the upmarket suburb of Moto-Azabu – has a “number of disadvantages” despite its hefty price tag.

Among the complaints listed in an inspection report are shabby carpets and sofas, an awkward location, and rooms that get too hot when hosting functions.

Attempts are now underway to extricate the Irish government from its colossal rent bill in Tokyo and develop a new combined embassy and residence by buying up the site that is being offered by Japanese authorities below market value.

However, the proposal has met with a mixed response in the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure where concerns have been raised about its feasibility.

Details of an inspection report have revealed that the current residence is not ideal, despite its access to a spa, swimming pool, a roof garden and even a wine and port cellar.

The report explained: “The number of private rooms is small and they are sometimes pressed into service for official events especially around St Patrick’s Day or for high level visits. Storage space is limited and private space is used for furniture storage which means that visiting ministers cannot be accommodated in the residence if it is being used for official entertainment functions.”

The report also said that while private space was “sufficient” for the current Ambassador and her family, it would not accommodate a family with children.

In addition, it said: “The low ceilings in the apartment and limited storage space for visiting guests’ property are particularly evident at larger events such as the St Patrick’s Day reception, which can be uncomfortable and overheated.

“There are also increasingly noticeable signs of wear and tear on the carpets and sofa which may require attention soon.”

The report also pointed out that the residence can be difficult to find meaning guests frequently get lost en route to functions.

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It wasn’t all bad with the €552,000-a-year residence however. The report said it had one of the few public areas of an Irish Residence, which could showcase “indigenous purpose-built Irish furniture”.

“The overall impression is tasteful,” said the report, “and gives a contemporary impression, pleasing to the Japanese aesthetic without being clichéd. It also has a pleasant outdoor space although given the local climate this can only be comfortably used for part of the year.”

In a business case prepared by the current Irish Ambassador Anne Barrington urging development of the new diplomatic complex, she explained that Ireland’s annual rent bill in Japan was €1.125 million.

That includes the €46,000-a-month for her residence, another €24,000-a-month for a separate Embassy building, and a further €143,000 in rent for “diplomatic colleagues”.

“For that €1 million investment,” she wrote, “Ireland has a very inadequate footprint in Japan, especially in comparison to our competitors.

“From the courtesy calls I made on more than 40 Ambassadors since arrival, it is clear that Ireland’s footprint is significantly below what is adequate.”

Plans for the new complex have not been universally welcomed however, according to a series of internal emails released as part of an FOI request.

In one email, a senior Foreign Affairs official complained that the Department of Public Expenditure were “not being very helpful”.

That was in response to correspondence where a senior official in Public Expenditure had said he did not think the proposal was “a runner”.

In that email, it was explained that the development would have to be treated as government spending in a single year, even though the cost would be spread over a number of years, and was “therefore not do-able”.

In an explanatory note, the Department said: “The Embassy in Tokyo has proposed that the state purchase a site and use a public private partnership model to develop a new Embassy/Ireland House and official and staff accommodation in Tokyo that would be funded through the rental stream.

“Were such a proposal to be agreed, this potential model could be used to allow the Department to develop new Embassy/Ireland House arrangements in other strategic partner country locations by making a capital investment.

“The proposal in Tokyo would significantly enhance Ireland’s footprint and prestige in this strategic market.”

A selection of the many many documents released as part of the FOI request.

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