Should the Republic return to the Commonwealth?

There is so much bad cultural blood between Unionism and nationalism, it’s good to see a few areas of common good will emerge at the weekend, or indeed across this whole six nations rugby championship, when the Irish rugby team won the grand slam for the first time since 1948. Politically, of course, the Irish team is a chimera. It isn’t quite what it says on the tin. But it says enough to most of us to command our undivided loyalty not to mention affection. It may have been that thought that prompted a multi signature letter to the Irish Times yesterday, which pleads an old cause:

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.

The response maybe something less than the signatories hoped for.

Could the case for a return to the Commonwealth (greatly republicanised since 1949) be couched as a form of leadership by Irish nationalism in the round? Would it be a viable act of reconciliation? It would certainly constitute a form of reconciliation, but would it be viable?

No one I’ve spoken to in the DFA relishes the extra burdens it would bring… Although having a separate Irish interface with Africa might be desireable, it’s not clear that the payback would be worth the extra investment… That’s not to say there is not a significant shortfall in the country’s diplomatic effort

However the question of how nationalism (and/or vice versa) takes leadership on rapprochement with Northern Irish Unionists abides…

In the meantime the biggest obstacle to joining the Commonwealth may not be history or the bad blood, but for want to a reason to just to do it. Mark Sugrue’s letter in today’s paper just about covers it:

“Commonwealth citizens” have no extra rights of travel or work — for instance, they need to apply for a visa to visit member-state Australia, just as Irish people do. There are no extra rights on the movement of goods or capital — the Commonwealth is not a trade organisation. And despite its claim to support democracy, it includes many countries which fall far short of being functioning democracies.

It seems that the Commonwealth exists in name only and provides, at best, an excuse for an annual foreign junket for politicians. Until the Commonwealth finds a reason to exist, there is no reason for Ireland to join.

H/T to Conchubar who takes up his own case as Gaeilge

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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