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)