FG, the DUP and the Commonwealth
Sir, – Much has been made in recent days of the remarks made by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP at the Fine Gael national conference in Wexford in relation to encouraging the Republic of Ireland to join the Commonwealth, and a perception that has been conveyed in the media that such a suggestion was warmly welcomed by Fine Gael delegates.
As an attendee at this session (which also included Alliance Leader Naomi Long MLA, Claire Hanna MLA from the SDLP, as well as the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney TD, and which was in fact impressively organised by Young Fine Gael), my own perception is that the majority of the room did not applaud these remarks, although a very modest number robustly applauded the comments.
There would be a very small cohort of Fine Gael members who would advocate Commonwealth membership but I would think that this cluster would be about 1 per cent to 2 per cent of the overall membership. Most Fine Gael members in my view hold a fiercely negative sentiment towards any such proposal, in line with the majority of the general population.
Also, Sir Jeffrey deployed clever oratory in making the remarks, in that he finished his comments by praising the work of Senator Frank Feighan, and of course delegates would have wanted to acknowledge the efforts of a popular Senator from their own party when someone is praising him.
Sir Jeffrey also deftly responded to a SDLP representative’s question asserting that the DUP’s petition-of-concern power is effectively going to impede future votes on social reform issues such as on LGBTQ+ rights from taking place in the North. He outlined that the DUP does not hold 30 MLA seats required to deploy this influence. Yet I think a question as regards how the DUP proposes to support farmers in lieu of CAP payments to be lost post-Brexit (in a context where the Fermanagh Herald recently reported that CAP payments can represent up to 85 per cent of farmer income in the North) would have been harder for Sir Jeffrey to respond to. – Yours, etc,
Cllr JOHN KENNEDY,
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council,
Sir, – Once again the issue of Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth has been raised, this time by the DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who made the comments as he attended the Fine Gael national conference in Wexford to debate North-South relations.
The Irish State formally left the British Commonwealth in 1949 with the establishment of the Republic of Ireland. At that time, this policy was seen as a natural further step in the direction of a fully sovereign Irish state, separate from Great Britain. Despite the machinations of some, there is no significant degree of support amongst the population for Commonwealth re-entry. I believe rejoining the Commonwealth would be a retrograde step. It would have the effect of gradually “re-Britishing” the Irish State and it would amount to a rejection of the separatist aspect of Irish nationalism.
Irish separation from the embrace of the British polity and the existence of a republic are non-negotiable basic principles. Ironically, it was a Fine Gael taoiseach, John A Costello, who in 1949 ended the last British link over most of Ireland. It is imperative that we ensure that some in today’s Fine Gael do not undo that achievement. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – At the time of the Belfast Agreement in 1998, I would have looked with equanimity at the possibility of the Republic of Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth, regarding it as a rather harmless and toothless old boys’ club. It even contained other republics.
However, I now suspect that the continued existence of the Commonwealth is a contributory factor in the current British mindset that rejects Europe and hearkens back to an imperial past.
Rejoining would therefore be a retrograde step. – Yours, etc,
A chara, – Who Fine Gael does or does not invite to its meetings may be its own business but it seemed strange that the DUP, SDLP and Alliance Party were all prominently represented at its recent conference in Wexford while the main party of Northern nationalism, Sinn Féin, was conspicuous by its absence.
This was in marked contrast to the annual party conference of the Tory party in Britain last year when Arlene Foster of the DUP and Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin were both invited and given speaking opportunities.
The Irish Government is a co-guarantor of the Belfast Agreement, which enshrined the principle of parity of esteem for both traditions in the North.
As the main party of Government in the Republic, Fine Gael – whether it likes them or not – needs to accord equal respect to the democratic mandates given by both communities in the North.
It is painful enough for Northern nationalists to see the DUP being love-bombed by the present Conservative government at Westminster without having to witness its prominent spokesman Sir Jeffrey Donaldson being lauded and applauded by the main party of Government in the Republic.
It has to be said that the present Tánaiste has always been even-handed in his interactions with the main Northern parties. This makes it all the more disappointing – with Brexit casting a dark shadow over the future – that, led by the Taoiseach himself, Fine Gael could not resist the temptation to have a vitriolic go at the main party of choice for Northern nationalists while at the same time, apparently, lauding the main party of Northern unionism. – Is mise,