€22m Irish embassy in Rome an ‘expensive privilege’ with smelly pools and graffiti scrawled on walls


In a survey of the multi-million-euro property, officials also warned of “malodorous” decorative pools, blocked gutters and algae and fungal growth on exterior walls of Villa Spada.

The report said the historical house was an “expensive privilege” and the department might be better to offload it and relocate.

It said the entrance to the embassy part of the complex was “less than impressive”, located down a side passageway, with an Ireland harp escutcheon “poorly mounted”.

A wall on one side of the property had been daubed with extensive graffiti.

However, the report added: “Ironically, it should be noted that very few properties in the vicinity and, indeed, throughout Rome are in pristine condition.

“Graffiti is widespread, meaning freshly painted white or cream walls could actually look out of place and even attract more attention from graffiti ‘artists’.”

The department survey from February last year detailed how the property was “barely adequate” to serve as both an embassy and the official residence of the Irish ambassador.

However, it was “far too large” to be used only for accommodation, while its historical significance meant any extension or new build on the site was “unthinkable”.

“It is also probable that any groundworks could lead to the discovery of historical artefacts, leading to delays of planned works,” the report said.

It said a huge amount of state resources was tied up in the site and that owning it was an “expensive privilege”, but left the department “saddled” with significant ongoing costs.

The report added: “As recommended by the 2019 review team, the option of selling and relocating should now be given serious consideration.”

​Among the problems it outlined were weed-blocked gutters and slipping roof tiles that risked letting water into the property. Windows needed puttying and repainting, and some windows and doors might require more extensive but sensitive restoration.

The report said: “The mezzanine level rooms require renovation works and there is evidence of some damp incursion on the stair wall at the embassy entrance.”

The survey said external walls were discoloured with algae and fungal growth, while the perimeter wall had cracked or crumbled in a few places.

There were also issues around security, some of which had already been addressed, but details of that were redacted under FoI laws.

Also noted were garden steps that were uneven, broken and covered in moss, as well as a set of stairs made of uneven stone that required a guard rail.

The report said: “We recommend that until such time as the steps and lighting are improved, the lower garden entrance/exit should not be used.”

Officials said there were particular difficulties around providing universal access to the property as it is over a number of levels on sloping parkland.

The report added: “Decisions on health and safety, access and sustainability upgrades as discussed … cannot be postponed indefinitely.”

A separate 2019 mission review said the embassy building was small, with unsuitable offices and no proper conference room or space for visitors.

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said: “The upkeep of our official premises, including those of our missions abroad, requires regular review and investment in order to ensure that appropriate standards are maintained for staff and visitors, including meeting appropriate security and health and safety requirements.”

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