SEANAD EIREANN DISCUSSES IRELAND’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THE COMMONWEALTH OF NATIONS
RCS Ireland was pleased to support this important occasion, in which the historical, enduring, and future links between Ireland and the Commonwealth of Nations were officially discussed in the Irish Senate. Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs was represented by Helen McEntee, TD, Minister for European Affairs, during the event that occurred on 01 May 2018.
The proceedings began with a powerful speech from Senator Feighan, followed by coverage of the position of the Irish government on Ireland’s relationship with the Commonwealth. The commencement of the motion stated: ‘The need for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to explore more associations and friendships with the Commonwealth of Nations to further encourage political, trading, cultural, sporting, educational and foreign aid partnerships.’ Senator Feighan presented the following remarks
“As many of you here will be aware, I have spoken publicly on this issue many times. In this era of Brexit, my call to explore the potential benefits of rejoining the Commonwealth of Nations continues to provoke an interesting response. Many of us here are democratic Irish nationalists and proud Europeans. But we now live in a time when our future relationship with Britain will be shaped by Brexit and that is why I believe it is very important that we seek to develop and nurture new relationships.
The stark reality of Brexit is already biting at fundamental levels. Here is just one example: up until recently, an average of 26 daily meetings took place between Irish and UK officials. Those regular meetings between British and Irish diplomats and politicians at a European level were instrumental in fostering good relations and understanding between the two islands.
In my own personal opinion, I believe ours and the UK’s joint entry into the EEC forty-five years ago paved the way for the Anglo-Irish and Good Friday agreements – and both agreements have delivered peace and a shared future to our two islands.
In terms of relationship building, I don’t think it is a coincidence that Ireland has recently applied for observer status to join the Francophonie, a club of Frenchspeaking states. The 57-member Commonwealth-style organisation is a way of fostering links between French-speaking countries. I have consistently encouraged a debate on the merits of Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth of Nations. Indeed, I believe by doing so, the Republic of Ireland could pioneer the way for new relationships with Commonwealth countries – which includes the UK – and the EU itself.
The Republic already has very strong links with Commonwealth countries in terms of aid, trade, politics, education, common legal systems, diaspora and sport. Notably, seventy per cent of the people born on the island of Ireland residing overseas live in Commonwealth countries. Indeed, it’s estimated that more than 20 million people of Irish origin live within Commonwealth countries such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The current Commonwealth, with a combined population of 2.3 billion people, comprises 53 countries, 31 of which are republics like ourselves. In terms of foreign aid support, the Commonwealth has helped lift many countries out of poverty and many of its member states are not just developing nations but also hi-tech
countries such as India and South Africa.
For those who are not familiar with the Commonwealth, it is a goodwill organisation which performs a positive global role. And it is not the British Commonwealth of old; it is the modern Commonwealth of Nations which was renamed in 1949 to accommodate Republics such as ours. It is also important to say here that the United Kingdom is one of 53 members, with less than 3% of the population – so suffice to say that Britain is still an important member of the Commonwealth but no longer the boss. Furthermore, the Queen is the titular head at present but carries no power – she is just the symbol of free association within Commonwealth nations – the majority of which are republics with five being monarchs of royal houses in different countries.
Let’s be clear here. I am very much a realist and I know that the debate about Commonwealth membership for the Republic of Ireland will involve examining many issues, complexities and sensitivities. However, I am also of the firm conviction that if we put our old prejudices to one side when we look at the merits of rejoining the Commonwealth of Nations, we will find much value in what I am proposing. But the most important reason I am calling again for this debate on rejoining the Commonwealth is that if we truly desire a united Ireland, one Ireland or a shared island, then we must show our unionist friends that we are not afraid to take this leap of faith.
And who knows, into the future, we could look forward to our two islands cooperating, North, South, East and West, on many new fronts – sporting being just one of them. Can we all not envisage the possibility of seeing island of Ireland teams such as hockey, and many other sports, competing in future Commonwealth Games? And can we also not dare to dream that such possibilities could help pave the way for an all-Island soccer team competing in future World Cups and European championships? I think all of this is worthy of serious consideration. Thank you”
RCS Ireland congratulate Senator Feighan for his excellent remarks and we are encouraged by the response from Minister McEntee. Coverage of the event, the Minister’s response, and follow up remarks from Senator Feighan, are available via the following link (0.33mins – 0.44mins): http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=38313&&CatID=129
RCS Ireland Team.