HC Deb 09 March 1824 vol 10 cc837-47
Mr. Grattan

rose to present a petition from the Catholic Bishops and Clergy of Ireland, signed most respectably by men of exemplary piety and learning. They allege, that the funds appropriated by parliament to the Education of the Poor in Ireland amount to a very large sum; but they complain that from the manner they are regulated in their distribution, the practice is at variance with the principles of the roman catholic religion. The indiscriminate use of the Bible in the schools, which is uniformly insisted upon, is what these petitioners allege to be opposed to their doctrine. Their impression was, that as a very great proportion of the Irish poor are catholics, the education of their own poor ought to be under the superintendance of the Catholic clergy; and, consequently, a proportion of the charitable funds at their disposal. These funds, it would be recollected, amounted to 70,000l. When, last session, the Protestant charter schools were under consideration, it appeared to be the general feeling, that a very considerable alteration ought to be made. From the year 1800 to 1817, the grants voted by parliament to these schools, amounted to nearly half a million; and yet, with such vast means, the House would learn with surprise, that only 2,000 individuals had been educated in them. But, the great grievance of which the petitioners appeared to complain was, the system under which the Kildare-street Association was managed. The funds of that institution, which had increased from 4,000l. per annum, to 7,000l. were misappropriated excessively. Schoolmasters, who availed themselves of such a grant, were bound, by a written obligation, to divest themselves of all superintendance and power in the school, and the Protestant minister, as the petitioners allege, possessed the power of regulating the schools; and, in some instances, of ousting the schoolmaster. These subjects were of great importance; and, in the present state of Ireland, he prayed both the House and his majesty's government to weigh well the necessity of considering the condition of the great body of the people, in the application of the funds destined for the education of the people. His right hon. friend (sir J. Newport) had moved for the production of certain returns. When these were before the House, he would move for a committee, to take into consideration the distribution of the funds appropriated to that object; and to that committee it was his intention to have the present petition referred.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that as there would occur future opportunities for the discussion of the points referred to in the petition, he should at present express his entire dissent from the principle laid down by the petitioners, namely, that a separate fund should be set aside for the education of the Irish catholic poor. Heretofore it was considered by the hon. gentleman who introduced the petition, and by those with whom he generally acted, that the great object of such exertions should be to correct, as far as it was possible, the many causes that led to separation and disunion in Ireland, and to substitute principles of union and conciliation, in their place. On what grounds the new view taken that night by the hon. gentleman was founded, he was at a loss to discover; but he felt that he was fortified by the repeated declarations in that House, that such a system of separation would never be sanctioned. Was it pretended that the Kildare Association refused grants to the catholic schools? No such a charge, he was convinced, could be established. The only restriction in the issue of such grants was, that the Scriptures should be read in such schools without note or comment. That was the only restriction; and it had been sanctioned over and over again by the voice of parliament. Where there were so many points of doctrine on which the protestants and catholics differed, surely it was of importance to fix on one main principle in which all christians agreed. Was it pretended that the catholics of Ireland were unwilling to avail themselves of these grants? The returns gave the answer to such a charge. Let the House look at the state of Ireland before and since the Kildare-street Society was founded, and then they would ascertain the progressive improvement. In place of any indisposition there was the greatest solicitude on the part of the people, even in Munster, where the population was for the most part catholic, to avail themselves of the means of education.

Sir J. Newport

lamented that this petition had been presented before the whole subject had been investigated by a committee. So long ago as June last, he had moved for a variety of papers, illustrative of the subject. To that motion no return had been made, and on the 9th of last month he had renewed his motion; when it was ordered by the House, that the papers should be furnished forthwith. This neglect in complying with the orders of the House, was extremely culpable. His object, in moving for the papers in the last session was, that they might be ready at the commencement of the present, to be communicated to a committee for the purpose of investigating the whole merits of the case. After an inquiry such as that to which he had alluded, it appeared to him that it might be very practicable to place the subject on a footing satisfactory and conciliatory to both parties; but he deprecated any discussion of the question, until such an inquiry had been completed. The Catholic body complained that they had not any part in the management of the funds in question. The trustees of Maynooth college were of both persuasions; why, therefore, might not the managers of these funds be so too? He trusted that both parties would moderate their temper, allay their prejudices, and approach one another in a way calculated to diffuse the blessings of education throughout the country.

Mr. Dawson

objected to the form of the petition, and to the Catholic bishops of Ireland considering themselves as a Corporation. With respect to education in Ireland, it was increasing among all classes, Catholic and Protestant. Tracing the operations of the Kildare-street Society, in that respect, he stated, that in 1773 there were in the west and southwest parts of Ireland but eight schools; that in 1816 there were 800; and that now in 1824, there were 1,122. When the subject came to be discussed, it would be proved incontestibly, that of all the institutions of a similar kind in Ireland which had received the assistance of parliament, there was not one so deserving as the Kildare-street Society.

Mr. J. Smith

concurred in strongly recommending the furtherance of the objects of the Kildare-street Society.

Mr. Plunkett

observed, that whatever difference of opinion might exist with regard to the form of the petition, all persons must agree in the great respectability of the petitioners, and that their wishes must always be entitled to the utmost attention. On the subject of form, however, he thought his hon. friend behind him mistaken. It was clear to him that the petitioners did not assume any corporate character. They merely called themselves "the undersigned Roman Catholic Bishops." Now, the fact was, that a Catholic bishop in Ireland was as much a bishop as a Protestant bishop. He was a bishop of the Christian Church. He was competent to confer ordination. Nay, were any one of them to conform to the Protestant faith, he would instantly become a bishop of the Protestant church. One word as to the facts of the case. The opinions which had been expressed by the hon. members for Waterford and Midhurst were entirely his own. He entirely agreed also in some of the allegations of the petition. He agreed in the great importance of education, and he agreed in the still greater importance of making religious instruction the basis of all education. Every other notion on the subject was chimerical and impracticable. To make education rest on a moral basis alone, was not only useless but absolutely pernicious. Nothing, however, was, in his opinion, more to be deprecated than the separation of the schools in Ireland. But, if the union of morals and religion was to be converted into an instrument of proselytism, that was another question. How far that had been attempted, would be a fit subject for inquiry; as well as how far it might be practicable to separate the moral from the religious instruction in the same school.

Mr. Abercromby

observed, that if he were asked whether he approved the system of reading the Bible in these schools without note or comment, he should answer "Yes." Great good had been effected where this was the practice; especially in the south of Ireland. It was extremely perilous, however, to allow the subject to become a matter of public discussion under the present circumstances; and therefore, without, of course, ascribing the slightest blame to the presentation of the petition, he regretted that it had been presented; because, if once they came to debate the subject, or to balance the pretensions of both parties, with whatever calmness such a discussion might be entered upon, very serious differences were likely to arise. Whenever the grant for these schools should come before the House, he would be prepared to give the best opinion he could form on the subject.

Mr. V. Fitzgerald

also regretted that the subject had been brought before the House, before means had been adopted to acquire the best information respecting it. He denied, however, what had fallen from an hon. gentleman opposite respecting it. He would state what had taken place in two of the counties of Ireland, almost exclusively Catholic; he meant Limerick and Cork. In 1817, the number of schools in these two counties was three. They increased progressively, until last year they amounted to 108. In other parts of Ireland he knew that there had not only been no partiality in the establishment or administration of the schools in question, but that even Catholics did not believe that there was; for within these few days he had received an application from two Catholic priests, soliciting aid for the establishment of schools of a similar nature. Of course they had no suspicion of any design of proselytising their flocks or they would have felt it their duty to resist such establishments. The fact was, however, that many persons were deceived with respect to the objects of the Kildare-street Association. To show the benefits which that association had conferred on Ireland, he would refer to two reports from the commissioners of education in Ireland. The first of those reports showed what was formerly the exclusive study of the lower orders in Ireland who had been taught to read. It stated, that the most productive, but at the same time flagitious articles of traffic, were cheap editions of publications of the vilest nature, calculated to pollute and degrade the minds of the people, instead of tending to their improvement and civilization. They had, in fact, therefore, become more corrupt as they became more instructed, and had degenerated into worse citizens, subjects, and men. By the second of the reports of the commission to which he had alluded, it appeared, that the Kildare-street Society, by printing and circulating cheap works of another character, had, to use their own expression, "completely beaten out of the market" the authors and venders of the infamous publications in question. The number of volumes which the society had disposed of last year, was 121,000; and, during the six years of the existence of the society, the number was 784,000. He felt that the inquiry ought to be full and impartial.

Mr. Dominick Browne

said, he could not agree with his right hon. friend the member for Waterford, in objecting to the discretion of the Roman Catholic bishops in presenting this petition. He thought it much better that the whole truth should be told relative to Ireland, than that we should be too discreet in our discussions relative to that country. The Roman Catholic bishops, if they thought the education of their communicants should be always combined with religious instruction, were right in declaring their sentiments honestly to parliament. Whether he (Mr. B. agreed with them or not, was of little importance, but he did not think their opinions were at all different from the promoters of the exclusive system in England, called the National System. The Kildare-street Society had certainly done a great deal of good, but not one thousandth part the good they would have done, had they not insisted, as a sine qua non, on the Bible being read in every school to which they afforded assistance. The Roman Catholics were equally consistent with the great body of the Church of England, and one of its most distinguished prelates in particular, the bishop of Peterborough, in objecting to the distribution of the Bible without note or comment, and had the same right to accompany it with their interpretation, as the Church of England with their prayer book. He declared it his conviction, that all the difficulties and misfortunes of Ireland arose from the monstrous absurdity of an Episcopal Church, with 5,500,000 communicants existing in Ireland, without any connection with the state. The feuds arising from this cause continually showed themselves, now on, the question of education, to-morrow on some other occasion; but, until his majesty should enter into a concordat with the pope, and connect the state with that church, there would never be permanent peace in Ireland.

Mr. Secretary Peel

expressed his great satisfaction, that on this important question all parties were agreed in principle. In the education of the poor of Ireland two great rules ought never to be abandoned: first, to unite as far as possible, without violence to individual feelings, the children of protestants and catholics under one common system of education; and secondly, in so doing, studiously and honestly to discard all idea of making proselytes. The society, whose exertions had been referred to, seemed to him to have erred in this latter respect; although it might have begun its labours without any intention of procuring converts. He hoped that elsewhere, as here, no party feelings would be mixed up with the discussion of the subject, and that the example set in that House would be followed out of doors. When the right hon. baronet should bring the question before parliament in greater detail, his object would, no doubt, be to prevent the introduction of topics not necessarily connected with it, and which might give rise to less worthy feelings than the friends of education would wish to see excited.

Mr. C. Grant

said, he did not mean to express his approbation of the whole of the conduct of the association, whose exertions had been so frequently referred to: he was, notwithstanding, well satisfied that the charge of proselytism was not one that could be fairly brought against it. He contended, that the society had shown a great degree of liberality in permitting the reading of the scriptures in the Roman catholic version.

The following petition was then brought up and read:—

"To the Right Honourable and Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled. The Petition of the Undersigned Roman Catholic Bishops, on behalf of themselves and others professing the Roman Catholic religion in Ireland,

"Most humbly sheweth—That your petitioners are charged by the office they hold in the catholic church, to superintend in a special manner the education of the youth of their communion. That from the period when Roman catholics in Ireland were permitted by law to open schools and instruct youth, your petitioners and their predecessors have laboured unceasingly to promote the education of the poor, to check or to correct the abuses which prevailed in their schools, and to prevent persons of immoral or disorderly habits from becoming teachers of youth amongst the rude and simple of their communion. That Roman catholics have not had hitherto any means whereby to prepare school-masters competent to teach, still less are they enabled to remunerate the teachers of the poor, to build convenient school-houses, or to provide them, if built, with those necessaries, without which no improved system of education can be adopted or carried on with success.

"That your petitioners are deeply impressed with the truth, that education, if well regulated, is one of the most efficient means of preparing for the inhabitants of this country a better state of society; that by it their industrious, social, and moral habits would be greatly improved, the laws more respected and better observed, and the government thereby enabled to promote the public interests with greater facility and effect.

"That your petitioners are satisfied that no system of education can produce such results, unless religious instruction be made the basis of it, youth being so liable to error, and so easily seduced by passion, when not enlightened and restrained by the truth and influence of religion. Your petitioners beg leave further most respectfully to submit to your honourable House, that in the Roman catholic church the literary and religious instruction of youth are universally combined, and that no system of education which separates them can be acceptable to the members of her communion. That the religious instruction of youth in catholic schools, is always conveyed by means of catechistical instruction, daily prayer, and the reading of religious books, wherein the gospel morality is explained and inculcated.

"That Roman catholics have ever considered the reading of the sacred scriptures by children as an inadequate means of imparting to them religious instruction; as an usage whereby the word of God is made liable to irreverence, youth exposed to misunderstand its meaning, and thereby not unfrequently to receive, in early life, impressions which may afterwards prove injurious to their own best interests, as well as to those of the society which they are destined to form.

"That when memorialists learned some years past that the legislature had granted a considerable sum of money for the purpose of promoting a well-ordered system of education in Ireland, without religious distinction, they conceived the strongest hope that the money so granted would be partly employed in providing for the education of the Roman catholic poor; and that no regulations of a private or partial kind would be suffered to interfere with the benevolent intentions of the legislature. That such their hopes and expectations have been disappointed—the grant for promoting the education of the poor of Ireland, as well as that for assisting the building of schools, being subjected in their disbursement or application to such regulations or by-laws, as render them nearly useless to the Roman catholic poor.

"That the trustees of the former grant give aid only to schools wherein the sacred scriptures, without note or comment, are read by the children (a regulation which does not accord with the discipline of the Roman catholic church), and the latter grant, as your petitioners are informed, is applied, generally, only to the building of such schools as are leased in trust to the ordinary or minister, or other ecclesiastical person of the established religion in the diocese or parish in which such school is situated, vesting in them, by a special clause, a power of visitation, as well as a right to appoint or to remove the school-master at will. Memorialists further presume humbly to state, that such clause operates to the virtual exclusion of Roman catholics from such schools; the prelates and parochial clergy of the established church not being deemed by Roman catholics fit persons to whose control or superintendance the education of their children should be intrusted. That such schools, moreover, as well as all others, built or partly built at the public expense, are connected with some society, whose rules and regulations are not approved of by Roman catholics. Your petitioners also presume to observe, that the parliamentary grant to the Society for the Suppression of Vice is, as memorialists have heard and believe, partly applied to the building of schools, subject to a like influence, and to the supplying of them with books, tracts, and catechisms, such as Roman catholics cannot conscientiously make use of.

"Your Petitioners, therefore, deem it a duty to inform your honourable House, that the Roman Catholic Poor of Ireland continue unprovided with school-houses, school-masters, or with any such aids as are necessary for promoting amongst them a well-ordered system of education. That the Parliamentary Grants are not made available to the education of the Poor without religious distinction, inasmuch as the Societies, or persons to whom their application has been confided, have subjected the schools built by them, as well as the systems of education promoted by them, to such influence or regulations, as render them generally inaccessible to Roman Catholics. That in all the instances wherein aid is given by the Society for the Education of the Poor of Ireland, to schools under the immediate influence of Roman Catholics, the laws of the Society are evaded, or combined with such regulations for the religious instruction of the children, as are consistent with the discipline of their church.

"That schools, whereof the master professes a religion different from that of his pupils, or from which such religious instruction as the Catholic Church prescribes for youth, is excluded, or in which books or tracts not sanctioned by it are read or commented on, cannot be resorted to by the children of Roman Catholics, and that threats and rewards have been found equally unavailing, as a means of inducing Catholic parents to procure education for their children from such persons, or in such schools. That your Petitioners most humbly suggest to your Honourable House, that any system of education incompatible with the discipline of the Catholic Church, or superintended exclusively by persons professing a religion different from that of the vast majority of the poor of Ireland, cannot possibly be acceptable to the latter, and must in its progress be slow and embarrassed, generating often distrust or discord, as well as a want of that mutual good faith and perfect confidence which should prevail between those who receive benefits, and those who dispense them.

"That your Petitioners are fully satisfied, that if the public money granted by Parliament within the last few years for the building of schools, and for promoting the education of the poor in Ireland, had not been controlled in its expenditure by laws and regulations, such as have been mentioned or alluded to, the diffusion of moral and literary instruction amongst them, and especially in the Western and Southern parts of Ireland, would even now be considerable, and would in a short time pervade the entire population; but that no such result can be reasonably expected, while such by-laws and regulations continue to impede the effects which should follow from the public bounty.—That your Petitioners humbly submit to your Honourable House, whether it might not be more consonant with the paternal views of the Legislature, not to permit jealousies to be fomented, and religious acrimony to be excited, by entrusting the public funds granted for the education of the poor, without religious distinction, exclusively to persons not professing their Creed and to the promoting of a system of education which is opposed to the discipline of their Church.

"That your Petitioners also beg leave most respectfully to observe, that as the Roman Catholics of Ireland are allowed to profess freely their Religion, and as teachers of it are provided for them at the public expense, it would appear consonant to the liberal policy of your Honourable House, to promote education amongst them in a manner consistent with their religious belief. That the Trustees of Maynooth College form a Corporation already known to his Majesty's government, who, it is presumed, have faithfully administered the trust reposed in them; that they possess a peculiar facility of making themselves acquainted with the wants and circumstances of the Irish poor, and would, if intrusted with any Grant for assisting their education, be at once acceptable to them, and intitled to public confidence.

Your Petitioners, therefore, most humbly and earnestly intreat your Honourable House to take this their prayer into your favourable consideration, and to adopt such measures as may promote the education of the Roman Catholic poor of Ireland in the most effectual manner as to your wisdom shall seem meet. And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray:—P. Curtis, D. D. ? D. Murray, D. D. ? O. Kelly, D. D. ? R. Laffan, D. D. ? J. Murphy, D. D. ? J. Magaurun, D. D. ? J. Doyle, D. D. &c.; and K. Marum; D. D.&c."

Ordered to lie on the table.