Ireland and the Commonwealth

by David Christopher

As many of you may have heard, the Reform Group are facilitating what looks to be a fascinating upcoming debate on the topic of Ireland and the Commonwealth.

Both President McAleese and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern have called for debate on Irish re-entry into this international organisation. Given Ireland’s pivotal role in building and shaping the modern Commonwealth between 1922 and 1948, it seems a real pity that Irish influence has been missing since our departure from the Commonwealth in 1949.

Ireland’s diplomatic efforts during the 1920s and 1930s helped ensure that the Commonwealth grew into the uniquely inspiring global organisation it is today – a free association of independent, democratic states, committed to racial equality, human rights, sustainable development and the rule of law. Of the 54 countries belonging to the Commonwealth, 33 are independent republics.

Upon gaining independence in 1922, Ireland played an enormous role in the transformation of the Commonwealth into an association of free, independent, democratic states.

In the 1920s the Irish Free State worked together with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to press for the Statute of Westminster (1926) which recognised Commonwealth countries as entirely independent, and not in any way subject to each other or to Westminster.

This placed Dail Eireann, along with the Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African Parliaments, on an absolutely equal footing with Westminster in the counsels of the Commonwealth.

This was a very significant achievement by Ireland’s fledgling independent government and really helped lay the groundwork for the evolution of the modern Commonwealth. It meant that once many African and Asian countries gained their independence after World War Two, they were welcomed into the Commonwealth as equal partners.

Former Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku has stated that “It is clear that Ireland would be a very welcome member of today’s Commonwealth, given the country’s strong belief in democracy and its international commitment to human rights and sustainable development. Ireland’s links with many Commonwealth members are good and Irish women and men have made important contributions in all regions of the world.”

Rejoining the Commonwealth would also help supplement Ireland’s existing diplomatic efforts as an active member of both the European Union and the United Nations. Many nations with whom Ireland has developed a particularly close partnership – such as Lesotho to whom Ireland is the largest international donator of economic assistance – are long-standing members of the Commonwealth.

Chaired by Irish News columnist and NI peace activist Roy Garland, the debate features an impressive line-up of high-profile guest speakers.

Contributors include Amitav Banerji (the Commonwealth’s director of political affairs), Dr Martin Mansergh (Minister of State at the Department of Finance), Priscilla Jana (the South African Ambassador to Ireland) and Irish Times columnist John Waters.