LIMERICK – In the annals of political discourse, the term “traitor” has always been a proverbial powder keg, with sparks flying even within the hallowed walls of the House of Commons. However, it is a rarity to witness a debate in the House that doesn’t see one side hurling accusations at the other. One such historic incident, now four decades in the past, involved none other than Sir Robert Peel, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who utilized this very incendiary term to describe the Irish political figure O’Donoghue during a notable speech in Ireland.
O’Donoghue, who was the target of this controversial moniker, was profoundly offended by Sir Robert’s choice of words. The situation took an even more distressing turn when Sir Robert, perhaps unknowingly, referred to O’Donoghue as a “manakin” – a term connoting a person of small or insignificant stature. In response to what he perceived as an affront to his honour, O’Donoghue opted to dispatch his friend Major Gavin, who was concurrently serving as a Member of Parliament representing the interests of Limerick, to communicate a message to Sir Robert Peel.
Major Gavin’s meeting with the former Prime Minister was intended to convey the Irish politician’s profound displeasure with being publicly labelled a traitor. However, it seemed that Sir Robert’s response was nothing short of dismissive, further aggravating the already smouldering tensions. Consequently, Major Gavin made a pivotal decision: he would approach none other than Lord Palmerston, the Prime Minister of the time, and place this delicate matter in the context of a breach of privilege.
Lord Palmerston’s response to Major Gavin was markedly different from Sir Robert’s dismissiveness. The Prime Minister welcomed the concerns with open arms, displaying an empathy and understanding that resonated deeply. However, recognizing the gravity of the issue, Lord Palmerston made the necessary move to bring the matter before the House of Commons, thus instigating a formal process to address and scrutinize the incident. This historical episode serves as a poignant reminder of the inherent sensitivity of certain terms and rhetoric within the realm of politics, and the paramount importance of promptly acknowledging and addressing grievances and concerns.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Monday 24 March 1902