Republic should rejoin commonwealth; DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson’s proposal applauded at Fine Gael party conference

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson at the Fine Gael National Conference in Wexford. Photo: Patrick Browne/Fine Gael /PA Wire
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson at the Fine Gael National Conference in Wexford. Photo: Patrick Browne/Fine Gael /PA Wire
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DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has told the Fine Gael party conference he would like to see Ireland join the Commonwealth.

Sir Jeffrey received a round of applause when he mentioned the idea in Co Wexford on Saturday.

“This won’t get agreement with everyone here,” he said.

“I do hope we can come to a day when the Republic of Ireland will join with many other nations in the Commonwealth of nations and recognising, whatever our history, and whatever differences there have been in the past, that we’ve overcome a lot of diversity in the past in dealing with those issues, and I think it would be good in dealing with that.

“The Commonwealth is a place where Ireland’s voice should be heard and I would like to see that happen.”

The Republic of Ireland was a member of the Commonwealth until April 1949 when The Republic of Ireland Act 1948, came into force, severing all formal ties with the British Crown.

The idea of Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth has been prominently supported by Fine Gael Senator Frank Feighan, who Sir Jeffrey referenced a number of times.

Mr Feighan argues membership would promote Ireland’s values on a global stage and strengthen economic relations internationally.

The event, hosted by Young Fine Gael, brought Sir Jeffrey as well as Alliance Party leader Naomi Long and SDLP MLA Claire Hanna to discuss north-south relations.

Sir Jeffrey spoke at length about his party’s wish to be good neighbours to the Republic of Ireland, despite tense Brexit negotiations.

“There is no ulterior motive in unionism that says we can use Brexit to prevent this or prevent that, in terms of increased, enhanced cooperation in our common good,” he said.

“We need to ensure that people are comfortable where they are, we need to address the issues around the backstop in particular, but it’s about developing the new relationship.

“The UK has taken a decision, that decision has to be respected but it doesn’t mean we can’t continue to build those north-south and internal relationships, and that is the challenge for all of us.

“We do not see Brexit as some kind of a vehicle to undermine those relationships, and what we do in taking Brexit forward is important and we move forward on the basis of co-operation.”

Sir Jeffrey was also pressed on his party’s use of the petition of concern in the Stormont Assembly to block a vote on marriage equality.

He pointed out the DUP no longer have enough to members to have the majority for a petition of concern, and that it may no longer be a problem if there was a Northern Ireland executive.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who also spoke during the debate, said afterwards that he did not think rejoining the Commonwealth was on the table, the Irish Times reported.

“This has been something that Senator Frankie Feighan has been making the case for for many months, if not years.

“What you saw in the meeting was wanting to show some warmth towards Jeffrey Donaldson. I think people recognise that it was a big deal for him to come here and to take part in the Brexit debate.

“Fine Gael is a generous party and want him to feel welcome. I think there is some support within the party for looking anew at the Commonwealth but not a majority support at this stage.

“We have an open mind and there will be an active debate.”

When asked if it was something he would be in favour of, he said it was not on his agenda.

“I think we need to resolve a lot of very significant problems in the coming months and in the remaining lifetime of the Government.

“We have some very serous challenges in Northern Ireland to get a functioning Assembly and Executive working again.”

Asked directly if rejoining the Commonwealth was on the table, he said: “I don’t think so.”