At the weekend, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the Fine Gael party conference he would like to see Ireland join the Commonwealth. The Lagan Valley MP’s comments were met with applause.
There was later debate about whether the clapping was approval of his sentiments, approval of Senator Frank Feighan, to whom he had just referred, or politeness.
Sir Jeffrey was of course right that it would be good to see Ireland join the Commonwealth. But the very fact that his suggestion is gently dismissed, even by Fine Gael, tells you much about how little southern attitudes to Britain have really changed, despite sweet talk of a prospective ‘new Ireland’.
There has in the Republic been an almost mono-cultural response to Brexit, with minimal understanding in the media or political class of the multiple reasons why the population of its big neighbour had real concerns about the EU and the apparent remoteness of its power structures. Yet Ireland has itself been ambivalent about the EU at points, despite being a net beneficiary of Europe for decades, until recently.
Joining the Commonwealth would hardly be a major step. No-one dares suggest that Ireland retain the Queen as head of state, like Canada or New Zealand or Australia, those proud and independent nations, have done. Just that they join.
Major countries, such as India and Kenya, that suffered codified racial discrimination under the British empire, are in the Commonwealth, but Ireland, which had full representation in the House of Commons pre 1921, still cannot bring itself to join this friendly association almost a century later, even when it pretends to want to bring unionists into the fold.
For all the friendliness on Saturday, this has been one of the Dublin administrations most unfriendly towards the UK in decades. It is to be hoped that in any coming talks unionists insist on strict adherence to the three strands, and are only cursorily polite to this Irish government until it doesn’t merely pledge to shut Sinn Fein out of power in Dublin, but puts pressure on it over its political wrecking tactics up here.