Time to rejoin the Commonwealth?
Madam, – As Ireland approaches the 60th anniversary of the declaration of the Republic, is it time to reconsider the country’s membership of the Commonwealth? When Ireland left the Commonwealth in 1949 the other member-states hoped its departure would be temporary. In the 1920s and 1930s the Irish Free State had played a crucial role in the transformation of the British Commonwealth into an association of free, democratic and sovereign states. After Ireland left, the Commonwealth continued to evolve.
The 1949 London declaration ended the bar on republics being members of the Commonwealth and dropped “British” from its title. By agreement of the member-states the queen remains head of the Commonwealth, but only as the symbol of a free association of independent countries. In the 1950s and 1960s Commonwealth membership served as a bridge to world affairs for many newly sovereign states in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Today the Commonwealth is an international organisation of 53 states committed to peace, democracy, human rights, racial equality, sustainable development, and the rule of law. No fewer than 32 of these states are republics.
Commonwealth membership would be good for Ireland and good for the Commonwealth. Ireland and the Commonwealth stand for the same values in international relations. Members of the Commonwealth share a common heritage and history, including an Irish diaspora of some 20 million people – an international community that seems certain to grow as many people are forced by economic circumstances to emigrate from Ireland. Ireland’s membership of the Commonwealth would strengthen its links with a vast network of countries, communities, civic associations and professional bodies.
Ireland – with its extensive and respected experience of UN and EU peacekeeping activities – could make an important contribution to the Commonwealth’s efforts to promote democracy, prevent conflict, and protect human rights. The Commonwealth represents an important body of international public opinion and an opportunity for Ireland to strengthen its voice and influence in the global arena.
Among the many practical advantages of membership of the Commonwealth is the right to compete in the Commonwealth Games – the only multinational, multi-sport event apart from the Olympics. The next games will be held in India in 2010. Ireland’s participation in those games would be good preparation for the London Olympics in 2012.
Membership of the Commonwealth is more relevant than ever as Ireland faces its worst economic crisis since the foundation of the State. The country is going to need all the friends and connections it can get in the perilous economic times that lie ahead. The Commonwealth is not an alternative or a substitute for Ireland’s membership of other international bodies such as the EU or the UN, but it could prove to be an invaluable addition if our worst fears about the global economic crisis are fulfilled.
Ireland’s membership of the Commonwealth would, we are sure, be welcomed by the unionist community in Northern Ireland as a significant gesture of reconciliation. It would add to the collaborative framework established by the Belfast and St Andrew’s agreements. It would demonstrate unequivocally that the Republic has finally drawn a line under the troubled history of Anglo-Irish relations that led to Ireland’s self-exclusion from the Commonwealth 60 years ago. It would represent a further important step along the road to a pluralist Ireland in which different identities are recognised and respected, a country that celebrates its multi-cultural heritage and diverse history. – Yours, etc,