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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 27, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    Sectarianism and the Commonwealth

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    The old debate about this State rejoining the Commonwealth has started off again. I have already stated my view that, if it were necessary for complete and final reconciliation on this island, it would be worth considering.That complete and final reconciliation might or might not take the form of a United Ireland. Perhaps it would be a Federal Ireland. Perhaps it would be something else altogether, something that has not crossed our minds as yet.

    At any rate, if it helped to draw a line under sectarian and community tensions once and for all, forging a renewed relationship with the Commonwealth seems like a very small price to pay.*

    Eamon de Valera didn’t agree with cutting our links as we did back in the late ’40s. His grandson Éamon Ó Cuív takes a similar view, as I understand. After all, sovereign and imposing republics like India and South Africa are in the fold and have no problem with it. What does the Commonwealth do nowadays, in any meaningful sense, apart from staging its Games?

    Of course we are geographically that much closer to Britain. And we would probably have to swallow some kind of link with the British royal family: Queen Elizabeth is titular head of the organisation.

    As a person of republican outlook in the traditional, continental, anti-aristocratic sense, I could probably live with that, as  I do with Bono’s or Bob Geldof’s knighthoods, or should that be “knighthoods”, except for one aspect that has come to the fore in recent days again.

    That’s the sectarian requirement imposed on “candidates” for the throne. Anyone who is a Catholic  or even married to a Catholic is ineligible for the job. And the eldest son has precedence even over an older sister when it comes to inheriting the monarch’s role.

    A private member’s Bill is coming before the House of Commons to change the current law in important respects. But Gordon Brown’s Labour Government is not giving it any support and, judging by an interview with a minister on the Today programme this morning (click here), Downing Street is quietly backing away from the issue – or putting it on the long finger if you prefer.

    That really has to be dealt with. I am not sure if Ireland as an EU member-State could be part of an organisation where the head, titular or otherwise, was chosen on sectarian grounds.

    *My views on this issue are outlined in The Far Side of Revenge: Making Peace in Northern Ireland, by Deaglán de Bréadún, published in a second edition last year by Collins Press, Cork (www.collinspress.ie)

    • DesJay says:

      In principle, rejoining the Commonwealth is worth considering. And I see from The Times (London) today that the UK Commons will soon discuss a bill that would change the rights of succession to the throne, which bar Catholics and demote women (Anne is miles down the list).

      The coronation oath also needs some updating, else the new monarch, like the present, will be guilty of taking a false oath, for it enjoins the monarch to oppose the Church of Rome. I doubt Elizabeth did any such thing.

      But the fate of nations often hangs on small things. A peninsula north of Sligo. A fine bar near a coveted golf course. In comes a loudmouthed Englishman boasting of his money. A bunch of Irish guys hanging on his every word, as we used to say. Maybe he had the right to blackball their membership. Slovenly slaveens!

      I may be alone, but I suspect not. Right or wrong, men and women died for the Irish right to tell the English to go to hell. We have few enough rights left. That’s a keeper.

    • robespierre says:


      I think from an Irish point of view our role (through the modest Dr. FitzGerald) in launching the Lomé Conventions in 1974 was the single most significant trade achievement of a sovereign Irish state acting as head of the EEC. Both Lomé and the Commonwealth however suffer from their imperialist legacies and the poor trading nations left out of their frameworks arbitrarily (because they had not had the fortune to experience la mission civilisatrice).

      The World Trade Organisation now fulfils in its own imperfect way the role these organisations once fulfilled. I also think in functioning supra-national organisations (however loose) the chair has to rotate like in the OSCE, UN Security Council, EU and even a similar organisation like la Francophonie.

      I personally could not stomach seconding ourselves to a head of state determined by bloodline and the lottery of the lucky sperm. Englishness has nothing to do with – it has everything to do with natural justice and man’s place in the order of things.

    • Deaglán says:

      Not sure what you’re on about with the Sligo reference, Desjay!

    • Mel says:

      I really cannot see the point of the Republic of Ireland joining the British Commonwealth.

      Instead I would strongly urge the British to become a Republic and put their royal family out to graze for themselves!

    • Niall says:

      Something to do with a boat and a bomb I’d wager.

    • Deaglán says:

      Fascinating to be told that said horrific occurrence was an act of revenge perpetrated by someone who was blackballed from golf-club membership. I have heard some farfetched theories in my time for different actions and deeds but that beats most of them!

      I may have been too hard on Gordon Brown, judging from this Guardian piece: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/mar/27/gordon-brown-royal-succession

    • Bill Thomas says:

      As a Canadian, I suggest that Ireland would benefit from being a member of the Commonwealth (again). In the De Valera and subsequent regimes it did not participate or take advantage of that association because of its avowed hatred of most things British. Today, membership is not about the chance to participate in the Commonwealth Games (spare us the trivialities), but about participating with Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan and many others of the 53- member union on matters of mutual interest well beyond the agenda of the EU. Ireland prides itself on its preparedness to communicate and identify with the world: here is a group that provides it with that kind of platform over a wide range of countries and enhances its participation and ability to influence beyond the EU and UN.

    • Sean O'Loinsigh says:

      I don’t think that we can turn the clock back. While arguably we were hasty in leaving the Union in 1922 – we traded away a big bloc of votes in the parliament of a great power and our representation by a renowned sovereign for entire control over small beans and the mediocrity of our presidential office – that separation from Great Britain is what very many people have wanted and continue to want. It’s not worth upsetting them with talk of Commonwealth and token gestures. We should concentrate instead on meaningful constitutional reform, such as having more senators directly elected by special interest groups; our best senators represent exclusively university constituencies. We should also involve the whole nation more in democracy by allowing people a vote in parliament via the internet.

    • Deaglán says:

      That’s a fair point, Sean. We could have had a significant influence over British politics by retaining that bloc of votes in the Commons but the presence of foreign troops on our soil would have been a constant incitement to a sizeable group in the population.

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