The Irish Government today faced further calls to rejoin the Commonwealth.
Following appeals in the North's Assembly yesterday for Ireland to rejoin the international organisation headed by the Queen after 58 years, the secretary general of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Dr William Shija, said the time had come for Ireland to embrace the diversity offered by the group of 53 nations from across the world.
Mr Shija noted the vast majority of members were republican nations.
The former Tanzanian minister said: “We look forward indeed to when not only the other part of Ireland but other parts of the world are looking at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association as an association which respects diversity and differences and multi-cultural approaches.
“I look forward to an inclusive process by having more members.”
The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson and Alliance Party’s Sean Neeson yesterday called on Ireland to rejoin the Commonwealth following recent strides forward in the peace process.
In 1949 the Irish Government under Taoiseach John A Costello left the Commonwealth on becoming a republic.
Eamon de Valera’s grandson, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Eamon O Cuiv has backed the idea of Ireland returning to the Commonwealth in a bid to reach out to unionists.
The CPA is a group of parliamentary bodies within the Commonwealth and includes regional and national parliamentarians from the UK, Canada, Australia, Nigeria, India and Pakistan.
Mr Shija was attending the opening ceremony at Stormont of its CPA’s British Islands and Mediterranean Region’s conference.
Stormont First Minister Ian Paisley and Assembly Deputy Speaker Francie Molloy addressed the event whose theme this week is equality.
Delegates from Gibraltar, St Helena, Malta and Cyprus joined Scottish MSPs, Welsh Ams and Westminster MPs along with members from Pakistan and South Africa for the 38th annual conference.
The conference, which runs until Thursday, will discuss how Northern Ireland has moved away from conflict.
Mr Paisley welcomed CPA members to the North and hoped they would learn from the good parts of Northern Ireland’s history.
“Our society is increasingly diverse, and the opportunities that a more peaceful future presents must be available to all,” the DUP leader said.
“As a society we are strengthened through unity and diversity. This isn’t something to fear.”
He added that progress had been made through anti-discrimination legislation and measures to address disadvantage.
“But while policies are important, it is the things that people do which ultimately make the difference.
“A major focus of the Northern Ireland Executive will be to ensure that the policy translates into real action.”
Yesterday’s decision to enter the association was taken without opposition from Sinn Féin, a fact welcomed by Dr Paisley.
Sinn Féin Deputy Speaker Francie Molloy said he was welcoming the delegation in his neutral capacity as a leading officer of the House.
He said people in the North could enjoy a future free from fear and violence.
“We have an opportunity to learn from you and see how we can work together in developing a system of government which can accommodate and over time overcome distrust and division,” he said.