May 28

Why Ireland left the Commonwealth – and why she should come back


As the Queen's May 2011 visit to Dublin approached, I was asked about its relevance by the ABC.  I said it would be no doubt one of the most challenging Royal Visits that The Queen had undertaken.

The programme may be heard here.

In parts that were not included in the short broadcast I spoke to the journalist about the context and the possibility of Ireland returning to the Commonwealth. The broader context includes:-

·       Ireland's troubled history,
·       how De Valera took advantage of the abdication to minimise the Crown,
·       the truly extraordinary reason for Ireland leaving the Commonwealth and for the Republic,
·       the Queen Mother's amusing comment at the time,
·       how vindictive Australia’ s Republicans were when they were caught out for being completely negligent about the Commonwealth rule which Ireland could have used in 1949,  and
·       why Ireland should come back late. 

Did you know that the reason Ireland became a republic (in 1949 not as ABC TV's Lateline says, 1922) and left the Commonwealth was that one politician felt he had been insulted?

Did you know that those who wanted a separate Ireland  had  everything they wanted in 1914, but the war intervened to delay it?  Republican hotheads spoiled everything. 





 (Continued below)  

…Troubled history…


The relationship between Britain and Ireland had been difficult.  The British in principle, certainly from the second half of the 19th century, had had no objection in principle to home rule for Ireland.   Gladstone had attempted to do this twice; it was the divisions in Ireland which so long delayed this.  In fact under the Government of Ireland Act 1914, home rule, full dominion status was granted.

But with the outbreak of the First World War this was supended. When extremist republicans mounted the Easter Uprising in 1916 there was little support among the Irish. The uprising was pointless as home rule was agreed but only delayed by the war; it was of course seen as aiding the enemy.

But the overreaction of the British general and the rushed executions of the leaders embittered relations and led to further postponements of home rule.

The path to southern Ireland becoming an independent dominion within the Commonwealth as the Irish Free State was not easy, and was preceded by a war and followed by a civil war between the moderates and the extremist republicans.

Peace was only achieved by partition, by the six northern counties remaining part of the United Kingdom, and by the defeat of the extreme republicans.


….taking advantage of the abdication….


 More than a decade later the Irish Prime Minister,  Eamon de Valera, was to take  advantage of the abdication of Edward VIII to have parliament pass the Constitution (Amendment No. 27) Act removing the Crown and The King  from the constitution and abolished the office of Governor-General.

 De Valera neither wanted to legislate with respect to the Crown to give effect to the abdication, nor go down the alternative path contemplated by the Statute of Westminster  – requesting  the British to legislate for the Irish Free State.

Warned this was ineffective, he had Parliament pass the Executive Authority (External Relations) Act 1936 reviving the  external relations role of the King of Ireland .   Hence forth the King would only act on the appointment of diplomatic and consular representatives and on the conclusion of international agreements on the advice of the Irish government.

During the Second World War the Irish government declared Sohtern Irelands  neutrality, although  many Irish men and women were to serve in the British Army, the Royal Navy and the RAAF.


…a republic, leaving the Commonwealth…

  The story of the declaration of a republic and the withdrawal of Ireland the Republic of Ireland from the Commonwealth is told by Mary Kenny in a superb book, The Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate Between Ireland and the British Monarchy

 (You can acquire a copy of this by clicking here at a special prize price of three of tax and postage.)

This occurred in October 1948 when the then Taoiseach (Prime Minister) John Costello  was at  the Commonwealth conference in Canada in 1948. 

This was the first conference at which an Irish representative was present since before the second world war. 

Mr Costello seems to have formed the opinion that the Governor General Lord Alexander had snubbed him and his wife. Lord Alexander- then Viscount later Earl Alexander of Tunis – was an Anglo-Irish aristocrat, a Field Marshal and one of the great generals of the Second World War. He was a very popular Governor General.

Mr Costello was offended when a silver replica of “Roaring Meg” was placed on the dinner table.  This was the famous cannon used by the Protestants in the defence of Derry's walls against the Catholics during the siege of Derry in 1689.

Mr. Costello told one of his ministers:“I was so insulted by these things that I lost my temper and declared it [that is the repeal of the External Relations Act].

Apparently everybody was caught by surprise. Many  Irish men and women were appalled. 

The interesting point is that Eamon de Valera was opposed saying he would have retained the link to preserve relations with Northern Ireland. He stayed away from the main celebrations marking the Republic. He had in the past on several occasions rejected suggestions that of Ireland leave the Commonwealth.

…The King saddened…  

After the departure the King and Queen made a special point of being extremely courteous and cordial to the  Irish High Commissioner in London, John Dulanty.  The King indicated that he was saddened by the departure.

The following evening, Mr Dulanty was at another reception given by the Prime Minister of Ceylon.  The King and the Queen were present, and during the discussions, one High Commissioner quipped that it was very likely the Irish government had forgotten that Mr Dulanty was still in London as High Commissioner.

The Queen replied with a very quick riposte that brought gales of laughter, so much so that Dulanty  did not quite catch the witticism

She said that she did not think the Irish government was given to forgetting.

 …Ireland could have reapplied…

The point is that there was no reason why Ireland could not have re-applied to join the Commonwealth as India did when she became a republic in the following year, 1949.

 …Caught out being negligent, Australia's  republicans become vindictive…

This rule requiring re-application still applied in 1999. The republicans had carelessly not checked this out and made no preparations.  Instead of acknowledging and correcting their error, they  became abusive when we pointed this out.

That ACM was correct was demonstrated as correct and truthful in the 2007 CHOGM when :

"… it was agreed that the old procedure of reapplying for membership is not necessary.. where an existing member changes its constitutional status, e.g. from a monarchy to a republic, it should not have to reapply for Commonwealth membership as long as it continues to accept all elements of the criteria for membership."Note that. CHOGM itself refers to the “old procedure of reapplying for membership is not necessary.”

When I pointed this out in 1999,  Bob Hawke told John Laws national breakfast programme on 2UE that I was a liar. Malcolm Turnbull and Greg Barns supported that line.  In a recent book, Professor George Williams accuses me of scaremongering about the Commonwealth in 1999.

…..Come back Ireland…

We have long argued in this column that Ireland should return to the Commonwealth.  The sharing of traditions, history, the law, parliament, language and literature is too strong.Ireland's peremptory departure from the Commonwealth many saddened many across the  world. There was no retribution from the United Kingdom; in fact she immediately made arrangements to give Ireland and the Irish a special status in the United Kingdom.As Mary Kenny recounts the relationship is a love hate one and the Royal visit was overdue, but of course impossible during the “troubles”.

The Queen has been superb, and she has played a major role in the full reconciliation of the nations. 


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