The House of Commons saw an intense and emotional scene on Friday night during the discussion between Colonel Saunderson and the Nationalist members. The confrontation originated over a remark by the gallant member regarding the Nationalists and the ongoing war. It all stemmed from a statement made by a distinguished Irishman, the Mayor of Limerick, who said that when the English were weakened, it would be the opportune time for Ireland. This observation was immediately followed by a massive uproar that lasted several minutes, as the Irish members reacted vehemently.
Cries rang out through the hall, with questions about Talana Hill and why Colonel Saunderson himself was not at the front. Amid the chaotic scene, Saunderson stood his ground as the tempest of race hatred seethed and roared, making the Speaker’s calls for order virtually unheard. Mr. Healy, white with passion, questioned the relevance of the Mayor of Limerick’s speech to the ongoing discussion. Mr. Dillon, quivering with agitation, accused Colonel Saunderson of making grossly insulting observations about the Irish people.
The Speaker, when appealed to, declined to say that Colonel Saunderson had exceeded the limits of Parliamentary language. However, this did little to calm the agitated Nationalist members, as Mr. Dillon accused Saunderson of bragging and being good for nothing else. With crimson cheeks, Colonel Saunderson stood firm amid the rampant uproar. The Nationalist MPs hurled insults at him, calling him a coward. Mr. Healy declared that they were in no mood to tolerate insults from him.
The Speaker once again called for order, but the enraged voices continued to demand protection from being insulted. Mr. W. Redmond argued that had he said something similar, he would not have been permitted to do so. The House was momentarily amused by this ‘true Irish bull’ and broke into laughter.
Colonel Saunderson attempted to clarify his words by stating that he was referring to the historic records of the Nationalist race. However, this evoked an even greater uproar as Mr. J. Dillon accused him of further reflecting upon their race. Mr. Redmond lamented how this exchange would be seen by Kruger in Pretoria. Mr. Dillon called Saunderson’s observation cowardly and insulting.
Recognizing the gravity of the situation, Mr. Balfour stepped in and attempted to soothe the agitated Irish members with sweetened words. In response, Mr. Swift MacNeill acknowledged him as a gentleman, and Mr. Dillon conceded that Mr. Balfour had never insulted anyone. With a modest smile, Mr. Balfour expressed his gratitude for their remarks before succeeding in quietening the enraged House.
The incident stands as a testament to the deep divisions and tensions that characterized this era of British politics. Debates around issues of national identity and Ireland’s role in relation to Britain often led to passionate and heated exchanges within parliamentary settings. Despite the eventual pacification of the conversation, the lingering resentments between the parties remained palpable. The scene in the House of Commons that night highlighted the resilience of Irish nationalism, while also revealing the complex dynamics between different political factions.
Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser – Wednesday 07 February 1900