I am proud to hold both American and Irish citizenship. Republics are the greatest governing systems ever set up by man and belonging to not one, but two, is a personal bonus. That is why you can count me out as an Irish citizen if Ireland ever becomes part of a Commonwealth where by law, the British monarch must always be the supreme figure.
Yet some folks are trying hard to have Ireland rejoin. The Republic needs to have a “rational and serious debate” about rejoining the Commonwealth, a member of the House of Lords has said.
On Friday in Dublin the latest effort to make this happen occurred when the first meeting of the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) was held in the Republic.
Indian-born entrepreneur Lord Diljit Rana based in Belfast, said any debate must not be “governed by historical distortion, but rather recognize the truth of today and recognize that the Republic of Ireland has much to offer and lots to receive."
He told the Irish Times, “I have been associated with a group of people over the last number of years who firmly believe that the Republic of Ireland joining the Commonwealth would have considerable benefits, further improve relations with Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and be warmly welcomed by all Commonwealth countries, including . . . in particular [those] in the less developed world.”
To which I say “nuts,” as the great Irish American General Anthony McAuliffe once stated when the Nazis wanted him to surrender at Bastogne.
The commonwealth is a sectarian institution with an unelected leader. Until that changes (which is likely never) there should be “no surrender.”
The Commonwealth's own literature refers to the British sovereign by her title "Head of the Commonwealth," and makes clear there are simply no other options. President Michael D Higgins, as the Irish head of state, would always be subordinate at every Commonwealth meeting. In reality, if we join we would once again be bending the knee to an English queen.
In addition, the British monarch, as permanent head of this group, is not only an unelected figure, but also a sectarian one. The fact that the British king or queen can only come from the Church of England and all other religions are disqualified – no Catholic, for instance, can ever ascend the throne – should cause us to doubly pause over our commonwealth aspiration. We simply should not join organizations with sectarian leaders of whatever hue enshrined in perpetuity.
Only if the Commonwealth were ever to agree that every nation had an equal opportunity to be head of the organization should the Irish even consider joining. We should also insist before we join that all heads of state of the organization should be chosen regardless of race, color or religion – pretty standard stuff in this time of equal opportunity.
But given the current situation that an unelected and sectarian British monarch must always be "Head of the Commonwealth," how can any Irish politician argue that this is now an "equal and sovereign" institution which Irish people should give allegiance to?
The two republics I am a citizen of were hard fought for and hundreds of thousands died so that people like me could hold a scrap of paper which recognizes a fundamental fact that every citizen is created equal and that unelected monarchs have no right to perpetually rule anything.
The notion that the pre-eminence of the British queen has somehow now disappeared from the Commonwealth has been peddled furiously this past week as if no real harm can come from bowing the knee again. But the queen's supremacy is actually there in black and white in the Commonwealth's own literature. The current exalted status of the British monarch within the Commonwealth comes from a conference of Commonwealth prime ministers held in 1949 after the admission of India, the first Republic. I quote from the literature of what is now called the 1949 London Declaration. The Commonwealth leaders all "agreed to recognize King George VI as the 'symbol of their free association and thus Head of the Commonwealth'..."
There was some dispute about this supreme role of the King at the time. The Balfour Report, which had been adopted at the Imperial Conference of 1926, defined the Commonwealth as those dominions "united by common allegiance to the crown."
Obviously by 1949, India as a Republic could not subscribe to that. But India, under pressure from Britain, agreed to recognize the British monarch as "a symbol of their free association and thus Head of the Commonwealth."
Thus, all 54 members of that institution now "recognize the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth" to directly quote the literature from the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth conference, which was held in Edinburgh la few years ago and addressed by the Queen as their leader.
The divine right of the Queen to always be the head of the Commonwealth should disqualify Ireland, as a proud republic, from ever becoming part of such an institution.
Back in 1776, during their revolution, the Americans exploded the fallacy that there was a divine right of kings and that advancement in life depended on hereditary principles, not on merit.
All the great popular liberation movements, from the French Revolution on down, stemmed from the initial recognition in the American revolution of that inalienable right to self government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Between 1916 and 1921 the Irish were the first in the twentieth century to apply the lessons learned in America and France about self rule. Now there is a move to give some of that back and proclaim ourselves in one important respect, subject to a British queen again.
I know there is a tendency to overlook this fact at present, in the current headlong rush to do something – anything – to make us more acceptable to unionists in the North.
I don't mind unionists having allegiance to the queen at all. Monarchists like everyone else are entitled to their opinions. Equally, I would never ask them to swear allegiance in any way, however small, to a sectarian head of state as we Irish citizens will be asked to do if we rejoin the commonwealth.
I believe we would be making a tragic mistake if we allow ourselves, even in a symbolic way, to be ruled over by a sectarian figure whose very office embodies the opposite of what a republic aspires to of equal freedom and opportunity for all.