A leading Fianna Fail activist has said he is "ashamed" by the Irish government’s recent decision to close its embassy at the Vatican.

Des Hanafin, father of former Education Minister Mary, has also ridiculed Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s claims that the decision was taken purely on economic grounds.

Relations between the Irish government and the Church have deteriorated rapidly since the report on clerical sex abuse in the diocese of Cloyne was issued.

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Many believe the decision to end a diplomatic presence in the Holy See is as a direct result of the ongoing tensions between Church and State.

In an open letter to the Sunday Independent newspaper, Hanafin has joined the Bishops who condemned the recent announcement that the Vatican embassy will close early next year.

“I am ashamed as an Irishman at the government decision to close the Irish embassy to the Vatican,” said Hanafin, formerly an Irish Senator.

“Following what has already happened and its threat to breach the seal of the confessional by law, all this is nothing less than an attack on the Pope and the Catholic Church.

“Many Irish people were appalled at the Government’s move. Justifying it on economic grounds is incredibly hypocritical and an insult to the Irish people’s intelligence.”