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Is it now time for Ireland to consider rejoining the Commonwealth?

Senator Frank Feighan says rejoining the Commonwealth will promote Ireland’s values to a global audience.

Frank Feighan

A NUMBER OF years ago as a member of Dáil Éireann, I made a decision to wear a poppy in the house on Remembrance Day to commemorate the thousands of men from across the island of Ireland who fought in the Great Wars.

I wanted to publicly show that we had well and truly moved on from that dark, bloody era in the North before the evolution of the peace process – a time when the politics of fear and divisiveness tore apart communities living side by side.

A new political dawn 

I wanted to affirm the wide acceptance that there is now a new political dawn in this country which has allowed us to move on from the divisions of the past and which had created so much tension on our island and between Ireland and Britain.

The reaction to my decision to wear the poppy that day was very positive. It was another clear sign that this era of peace and reconciliation has helped to bring the people of Ireland and Britain closer together in terms of mutual recognition and respect.

There have been many milestones in this welcome era of peace and reconciliation, an era which was ignited by the signing of the Good Friday agreement in 1998.

Among those seismic milestones was the visit to Ireland by the Queen in 2011 and President Higgin’s State visit to the Queen in 2014. That latter visit was also marked significantly by the presence of Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness who attended a State banquet in Windsor Castle.

The current Brexit debate and the decision by the people of Britain to leave/remain has generated much debate once again about our own special relationship with our near neighbour.

Pictured is President of Ireland Michael D Higgins President of Ireland Michael D Higgins with Queen Elizabeth II. Source: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Should we rejoin?

Given the power of the peace dividend in succeeding to build many bridges in the last twenty years on this island and with Britain, one of those issues which has been occasionally highlighted in the last number of years is whether Ireland should rejoin the Commonwealth.

And today, I want to reopen the debate again about the merits of Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth.

In 1949 before we became a Republic, Ireland had been an active member of the Commonwealth. In becoming a Republic in that year, it marked the moment when the Irish President was formally recognised as the only Head of State and the departure from the Commonwealth.

Over the 65 years which have passed, tragically, there have been decades of deep political and societal upheaval but which are now thankfully firmly behind us. In their place, there is much tolerance and mutual respect which have helped to drown out most of the extremist voices.

It is noteworthy to point out that out of the 53 member states that currently make up the Commonwealth, 33 of them are Republics while the Queen’s position is now largely titular in nature. Among the 53 members states are countries such as the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand which are all home to many of the Irish diaspora.

Among the Commonwealth’s many noble objectives is the promotion of democracy, rule of law, human rights, good governance and social and economic development.

Yes, there will be detractors from obvious quarters about the notion of rejoining the Commonwealth, but would such a move not fit perfectly with this new era of political and religious tolerance on our islands?

Develop a pluralist Ireland 

Would rejoining not help further develop a pluralist Ireland where all our different identities are always mutually recognised and respected?

Would it also not just strengthen existing trade, business, cultural and political relationships but nurture new ones across the world?

The Reform Group, a non-denominational, non-party body based in the Republic of Ireland, advocating the development of Ireland for a new generation, believes that the Republic should, as a sovereign state, cultivate its “already close relationship with the peoples of the Commonwealth” by becoming a member.

Another advocate, author and journalist Mary Kenny, also argues that rejoining would enlarge Ireland’s influence and enhance the sense of inclusivity in the Irish nation.

In 2013, during a visit to the UK, An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny did say that he didn’t foresee Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth. However, he equally acknowledged the growing links between Ireland and Commonwealth, in terms of trade, diplomacy, culture.

So, I want pose the question again and hopefully open up a constructive debate: do we want to see Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth?

By doing so, will it not promote Ireland’s values to a global audience while strengthening and growing important economic and cultural ties internationally?

I believe so.

Frank Feighan was nominated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to Seanad Eireann last month. He is a former TD for Roscommon–South Leitrim. 

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