The Republic of Ireland exited the Commonwealth in 1949, having left the United Kingdom in 1922. In the 1920s and 1930s the then Irish Free State played a crucial role in the transformation of the 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 remained 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 52 states committed to peace, democracy, human rights, racial equality, sustainable development, and the rule of law. No less than 31 of these states are Republics.
The Irish government recently embarked on a review of the nation’s international relations and posture. Under the heading “A Global Island: Ireland’s Foreign Policy in a Changing World”, this endeavour will focus on safeguarding our peace, security and economic prosperity, and promote reconciliation and cooperation at home. The core of the review is said to be the protection of Irish citizens and the promotion of Ireland’s values abroad. In supporting this review, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs correctly highlights the fast changing balances of political and economic influence around the world, in terms of various global challenges, which require global solutions. As a result, Ireland’s place in the world is significantly linked to the State’s ability to engage with international governments and agencies. Indeed, such efforts are well underway, via the recently signed agreements between the United Kingdom and Ireland, which promote closer bilateral co-operation in areas such as trade, finance, energy, travel, and defence. Such efforts clearly complement the Irish government’s latest review.
However, in a recent study by the United Nations of 72 countries, some 771,572 people of Irish birth were found to be living in these nations. Approximately 70% of the Irish people captured in the study reside in countries that are members of the Commonwealth of Nations. These countries include Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Whilst Ireland left the Commonwealth 65 years ago, we clearly continue to share historical, cultural, familial, and economic bonds with these nations. Indeed, Ireland’s influence in the world is largely shaped by the achievements that Irish people make whilst working and living in these countries. The government’s new initiative seeks to safeguard our peace, security and economic prosperity, and promote reconciliation and cooperation at home. RCS Ireland invites debate on whether such aims would be enhanced via Ireland’s re-entry into the Commonwealth.
Examples of our Commonwealth relations include the following:
In 1994, President Nelson Mandela led South Africa back into the Commonwealth and his achievements were honoured in a recent interview by the Secretary General of the Commonwealth. Please click here for details. Further information on the Irish government’s new review on international priorities can be viewed by clicking here and the policy on the Irish diaspora can be found here.
An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny recently commented on the growing links between Ireland and Commonwealth, in terms of trade, diplomacy, culture, and more:
Ireland places great emphasis on global partnerships and international cooperation. These values are shared by the Commonwealth and were highlighted by the Commonwealth Secretary General in 2014: