It all started with a Canadian fisheries treaty with the United States in 1923. Normally, when Canada concluded fisheries agreements, they were signed on Canada’s behalf by the British Ambassador to the United States. But in this case, for the first time the signature of a Canadian minister, Ernest Lapointe, was attached to the treaty. And this precedent opened the door for the nascent Irish Free State to operate a foreign policy independent of the United Kingdom.
As pro-Treaty forces gained control of the Irish government following the Civil War, the policy of the ruling party, Cumann na nGaedheal, and the first President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, W.T. Cosgrave, was to critically engage with the Commonwealth. Cumann na nGaedheal essentially controlled a one-party state because the party receiving the second most votes in the initial elections, Sinn Féin, refused to take its seats. Cumann na nGaedheal worked to develop precedents, international relationships, and participation in transnational organizations which would allow Ireland to assert itself as a legitimate, independent nation on equal standing with the other nations of the world. Continue reading