Leaving the Commonwealth?

Published in Issue 1 (Spring 1999), Letters, Letters, Volume 7

Sir,—Re Ian McCabe’s article ‘Leaving the Commonwealth’ in the lastissue (HI Winter 1998). In the course of an interview, an esteemedretired practitioner of diplomacy insisted that the Republic of Irelandnever, in so many words, procedurally left the Commonwealth. She waslocked out by a peppery Britain still trailing clouds of empiregrandeur. It took a lot of persuasion from the old Commonwealthcountries to dissuade it from more draconian measures such asdeportation. As far-seeing de Valera had signposted (for the benefit ofIndia and Pakistan) declaring a republic was not synonymous withCommonwealth rejection.
Ergo, the thesis ran, the Republic never formally, procedurally,specifically tangented, it remains concentrically within theCommonwealth circle ingeniously squared by de Valera in 1937. John A.Costello found the clever-dickery of that External Relations Actdemeaning and it presented an irresistible cock shot for that otherbrilliant lawyer, republican Seán MacBride. Its repeal however did notspecify leaving the Commonwealth. If Australia, correspondingly,declares a republic, that does not automatically bring about aCommonwealth lockout. So what?
The point is that we never left the Commonwealth: it left us. Thataction was invalid. Britain had no right to act ex-cathedra for theCommonwealth. She would not get away with it today: she is now justanother member with no more rights than any other member. The mostforceful inspiration transforming the archaic British Empire into amodern Commonwealth came from the dynamic youthful Irish Free State.Irish brawn and brain made a major contribution to building the oldCommonwealth. We should reclaim our heritage.—Yours etc.,
Mount Merrion
County Dublin


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