Should Ireland rejoin the Commonwealth?
2018-03-01 16:50:00 -

Michael McGowan

The case for maintaining the Commonwealth as an international network helping to promote peace, co-operation and respect for human rights is strong. Its relevance and success, however, depends on the Commonwealth moving forward and cutting its historic links with the British empire and the British monarchy.


If the Commonwealth has a future, it needs to drop its association with the British crown and empire and focus on its role as a multicultural and multi-faith force. The majority of the 53 countries which today make up the Commonwealth are republics, not monarchies, some with no British connection. If the Commonwealth is to continue, it has to reflect the reality of today and acknowledge it has little in common with the eight founder member countries of 1949.


The links with the British crown are outdated and irrelevant; if Britain today were an emerging independent state, it is highly likely it would settle for being a republic and not a monarchy.


It is therefore appropriate that the Commonwealth itself, through its seven-member ‘high-level group’, is considering the future of its leadership after the after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The title is not heredity, and the decision about the future leadership offers an opportunity to establish new relevance of the expanding group of 53 nations.


There is no doubt that the Queen has shown a commitment to the duty of monarch with a marathon performance of more than 60 years, but it’s time to move on and come to terms with our rapidly changing world. For another monarch to succeed as head of the Commonwealth would be a missed opportunity.


In fact, the charter of the Commonwealth adopted in 2013 makes no mention of crown or empire, which are history. The challenge now is to move forward with a network and leadership relevant on the world stage.


It is therefore so timely for Ireland to review its relations with the Commonwealth, of which it is a former member, and especially as Ireland’s international role has been placed on the political agenda with a vengeance following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.


If Ireland were to rejoin the Commonwealth, it would help to secure the Good Friday Agreement, help solve the issues of the border between the Republic and the North, and draw a line under the troubled history of Anglo-Irish relations.


Ireland has played a key role in the development of the EU since becoming a member. Joining the union was for many in Ireland almost like an endorsement and recognition of Irish independence, besides an increase in the influence of the Republic not only in Europe but also on the global scene. Some believe that by rejoining the Commonwealth and offering leadership in the group, Ireland would strengthen the Commonwealth and provide itself with an even more influential role in world politics.


Names are already being floated for the post of next head of the Commonwealth, including the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former US President Barack Obama, the latter thanks to his Kenyan ancestry. But why not an Irish President?


The uncertain political scene in the UK, and a government with a tiny majority in parliament and dependent on the North’s small group of DUP politicians, besides the instability of the North’s own devolved government, are concerns to the Republic.


Meanwhile, there is a powerful case for the Commonwealth moving forward away from its historic shackles of crown and empire, with a leadership of real and proven international credentials through its track record of peacemaking, diplomacy, culture and a clear commitment to European and global co-operation.


So the time is now to consider rejoining the group and offering leadership to the Commonwealth which would be good for Ireland, for Europe, and for the international community.


Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.



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