HC Deb 01 March 1821 vol 4 cc1034-9
Mr. M. Fitzgerald

rose to submit the motion of which he had given notice relative to the Education of the lower Orders in Ireland. The subject of education in general had already been so largely canvassed, and, as far as it related to England, had been so ably illustrated by his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Brougham), that it would be presumptuous in him to do any more on the present occasion than allude to those points that bore on education in Ireland. The state of that country was little known to many members; and he might therefore be excused for stating some facts, an acquaintance with which was necessary to enable the House to form a correct judgment on the present question. Previously to the 43rd year of his late majesty's reign, two commissions had sat in Ireland on the subject of education, and had made no fewer than 14 reports, full of interesting matter; but out of those reports, no practical measure had arisen. In the 43 rd of his late majesty, another commission was appointed, which made 7 reports; but still, notwithstanding the recommendations contained in these 21 reports, nothing had been done for the promotion of education in that country. He did not deny that great exertions had been made by individuals, as well as by societies; but as yet no practical step had been taken to establish a general system of education. Perhaps the House would be very much surprised when he stated to them, under a few general heads, the magnitude of the sums at present applicable to the purposes of education in that country. There were in Ireland 70 schools on royal endowment, possessing annual funds of upwards of 8,000l.; 4 classical schools, under the endowment of Erasmus Smith, with funds amounting to 4,000l.; 20 diocesan schools, with large revenues; and 15 classical schools, two of which possessed funds of 1,465l. a year in landed property. There were, besides these, many schools for instruction in the English language, on private foundations, which had enormous funds, but in which the number of scholars was totally disproportioned to the great amount of the funds. There was also another description of schools possessing large funds, and which were peculiarly applicable to the education of the lower classes: he meant charter-schools, of which there were 39. Of these, the total annual grants amounted to 29,283l. and the total annual disbursements to 40,183l. The principle on which these schools were founded was totally distinct from all religious opinions; but he was sorry to say that the education of the poor was thwarted and limited in every possible manner in the Protestant schools, by their being required to renounce the Catholic principles before they are admitted. The sums possessed by all these schools, if properly applied, would be sufficient to extend edu- cation, and a knowledge of the principles of the constitution, to a large body, if not to the whole, of the population of Ireland. There was also the Foundling Hospital, Dublin, a well-known charity, of which the funds amounted to 32,000l. annually, and the number of children educated and brought up there was only 2,000. There were also 33 endowed classical schools, with annual funds of 9,000l. and which supported only 1,000 scholars. Independently of these charitable institutions, there were no less than 3,776 schools spread over Ireland, containing scholars to the number of 253,000 children. Ho stated these facts to show, that there existed in that country a very great disposition to instruct the lower orders, and on their part an extreme avidity to be instructed. He did not mean to impute blame to the second commission appointed under the late reign to inquire into the situation of these charities; but he did mean to say, that no actual good, no positive and beneficial measure, had followed upon the termination of their labours. His ultimate object was, to move, that the papers which were the subject of his present motion should, together with the reports to which he had adverted, be laid before a committee of the House. The total amount of the funds of different schools in Ireland, which might be made available to the general purposes of education, was more than 173,000l. per annum. This motion he should submit in the early part of the next session; and he begged to say that he should then lay before the House no speculative notions on the great subject of education in Ireland, but endeavour to propose some immediately and practically efficacious measure. At present he would move for "An Account of the Funds and Revenues of all schools on public or charitable foundations in Ireland, as far as they have been reported on by the commissioners for inquiring into the state of such schools; distinguishing the sources from which such funds and revenues are derived, and the number of scholars instructed in such schools respectively:" Also, "A statement, showing what measures have been taken for carrying into effect the improvements recommended by the said commissioners."

Mr. C. Grant

observed, that the greatest credit was due to the labours of those commissioners, of the results of whose exertions the right hon. gentleman spoke so slightingly. No specific measure had followed he would admit, upon their valuable reports, owing to certain obstacles which had been laid, in due course, before the government. To remove those obstacles, he had prepared a bill, which he intended to bring before parliament.

Sir H. Parnell,

though in general an enemy to aids of the nature which this subject was likely to call for, from the liberality of government, thought that it was one which might justify such a grant.

Mr. Spring Rice

hoped it was not necessary to offer any arguments at the present day to shew that the advantages to be derived from the principles of general education more than counterbalanced the disadvantages. Should any one, however, doubt it, it would be satisfactory to its advocates to find, on reference to the Statute books, that our forefathers had recognised the principle. By a statute of Henry 8th it was enacted, that parochial schools should be established in Ireland for the instruction of the Irish youth generally. The preamble of that act set forth the necessity of such establishments, as calculated to bring a barbarous people into a coincidence of language and manners with a people who were civilized. He did not quarrel with the terms of the act, but he greatly regretted that its spirit and its enactments were not more strictly observed. By that act it was enjoined, that every clergyman who possessed a benefice in Ireland, should teach or cause to be taught, a school in this parish, and that the youth of the place should be instructed in the English language. For an omission of this duty, the act imposed a fine for the first offence; a large fine for the second; and for the third, the loss of his benefice. It was also enacted that every clergyman on his appointment to a benefice should take an oath to the following effect:—"I swear that I will teach, or cause to be taught, the English language, in a school in my parish." Now, he was sorry to find, that, notwithstanding the strictness of the act and the solemn pledge of an oath, which every clergyman was obliged to take at this day, so little attention seemed to be paid to this subject. There were 1,125 benefices in Ireland, out of which 736 only, had made returns to the orders of the committee in 1810, and of which 549 only had scholars in conformity with the regulations of the statute. Now, it was a fair presumption that those who had not made a return had no school and according to that presumption, there were 576 clergymen who had neglected to do that which, by the oath they had taken, they were bound to do. This return was made in 1810, and he sincerely hoped that the clergymen could now make a more satisfactory return. The 12th of Elizabeth contained the enactments of Henry 8th, in favour of education, and would it now be denied in opposition to what was commonly called, the "wisdom of our ancestors," that education led to truth, and truth to virtue and happiness. He considered the subject of education to be of the utmost importance to Ireland; and he trusted under the conciliatory auspices of the right hon. gentleman, some comprehensive system of moral instruction for the poor of Ireland, would be brought into action. At no one time could it be more effectual in its application than at the present, when the mild and conciliatory administration of the right hon. gentleman had produced so favourable an impression in that country. It had been said (and he had heard the statement with regret, because he thought it very lightly made) that the Catholics in Ireland, and particularly the Catholic clergy were opposed to general education. As a friend to the Roman Catholics he denied this. They were opposed to it where it was connected, or where they suspected it to be connected, with a spirit of proselytism. Where that spirit did not dictate the system of education, no persons could be more favourable to it than the Roman Catholics. When they found that this spirit of proselytism was sought to be made the ground on which the blessings of education were to be bestowed, they were naturally opposed to it. When the established clergy were advised, under the sanction of an individual who had recently been advanced to the highest dignities in the church, that they were to teach the people, not only to believe in the religion of Christ, but they must also accept it as received and understood by the Church of England, was it to be wondered that the jealousy of the Catholics should be awakened? When they found their religion stigmatised in a late charge of the right reverend prelate, to whom he alluded as "a doctrine subversive of a christian ministry, annulling the value of a Redeemer's sacrifice, and disenthroning the Son of God," was it very surprising that they should feel some alarm, as well as some indignation?—These opinions of the right reverend prelate (the bishop of Killalloe) had, he was convinced, proceeded merely from a want of knowledge of the country to which he was sent. These opinions formed a striking contrast with the declared judgment of the board of education, in which those dignified characters, the primate of Ireland, the archbishop of Cashel, and the bishops of Killalla and Limerick had united. Those prelates in their 14th report had expressed their "unanimous opinion, that no new places for the education of the lower orders in Ireland, however wisely and un-exceptionably contrived in other respects, could be successful unless it should be explicitly avowed, and clearly understood, that no attempt should be made to disturb peculiar religious tenets of any sect or denomination of Christians."

Mr. W. Courtenay

bore testimony to the disposition of the Catholics to support schools which were conducted on a liberal system.

The motion was agreed to.