HC Deb 19 March 1827 vol 16 cc1259-66
Mr. James Grattan

entreated the attention of the House for a few moments, while he stated the substance of a Petition with which he had been intrusted, from the Roman Catholic Bishops of Ireland, on the subject of Education in that country. The Petition set forth, that the Roman Catholic population of Ireland had not the benefit of the annual grants made by parliament, and that a system of proselytism was carried on by means of these grants. It was a delusion to vote money to Protestant societies for the education of the Catholic poor of Ireland, since it was not fairly applied to any such purpose. If the real object was the improvement of the moral and intellectual condition of the lower orders in the sister kingdom, it would be far better not to place the sums devoted to such an undertaking in the hands of Protestant societies, but under the management of a board, or under the superintendence of the existing commissioners upon education, they being accountable to parliament for the expenditure. Such a course would give general satisfaction. He did not mean to contend that any sum, great or small, should be placed under the control of the Roman Catholics only, for the education of their poor, but societies which only promoted ill blood, jealousy, and animosity, ought to be got rid of as soon as possible. He begged to call the attention of the House to the progress made in the work of education in the last twenty years. In 1806, a commission had been appointed to make inquiries on the subject of education, from which thirteen reports had proceeded. It was understood, that there was to be no religious interference, and the commissioners went through the charter schools, and many others of private foundation. The hon. gentleman complained that these commissioners had not bestowed any animadversions upon the mode in which the charter schools were conducted; but, on the contrary, had recommended their continuance. The whole sum granted during the last ninety years was 1,600,000l.; and, for many years, 41,000l. had been annually voted for establishments universally condemned by the board of 1824. This commission had been superseded by that now subsisting, to which he thought the thanks of the country were due. Their second report stated the number of schools existing, as not less than 11,000, by which 560,000 children were educated. He felt called upon to say a few words regarding the Kildare Institution, which was the cause of many animosities now prevailing in Ireland, and which had become so extensive as to threaten serious consequences. Last year it had spent in buildings alone 8,000l. of the money granted by parliament. He had said, in a former session, that it would be wiser to place the money in the hands of responsible commissioners; and the objection to this suggestion was, that it would interfere with private subscriptions. It was worth while, then, to inquire, to what those private subscriptions had amounted. Last year they were 180l.; and the salary of the collector swallowed up 170l. of the money. He thought he could show, that since the Union, not less than 120,000l. had been annually and unprofitably expended. Many did not scruple to avow, that the object of the principal institution was not to educate, but to Protestantize the people of Ireland, as far as it was possible to effect that purpose. If public money was granted, let it be granted fairly; and it was but due to the people of Great Britain to take care that it was not misappropriated. The hon. member concluded by moving for leave to bring up the petition.

Mr. Hume

said, that the petition was of the highest importance, recollecting the repeated discussions, during the last ten years, upon education in Ireland. After the House had so liberally granted money for the education of the poor of that country, it was quite preposterous that it should be placed in the hands of individuals, to be applied, not to the instruction of the children of the poor Catholics, but to that of the comparatively rich Protestants. It was impossible to force education on the lower orders of Ireland; especially when the money for that purpose was placed in the hands of individuals, who, the Catholic clergy believed, had views of proselytism. Suspicions of this kind had been entertained for some years, and they were now most materially fortified. It was worse than a waste of the public money, to vote it for a good pur- pose, and to allow it to be perverted to a bad one. No less than 32,000l. had been granted to the Kildare-street Society; but instead of spending it for the benefit of the Catholic population, it had been employed in sowing heart-burnings and dissention. The Catholic clergy naturally protested against allowing children to attend any of the establishments where there was a chance that attempts would be made to convert them. Their convictions were strong, and nothing could overcome their repugnance. If the House was anxious to see the work of education proceed successfully in Ireland, it could only be accomplished by pursuing a plan consonant with the wishes and scruples of the Catholic clergy. He, therefore, entreated the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who was so well acquainted with Ireland, and who professed to take so much interest on the subject of education, not to permit the money to be placed in the hands of those with whom the Catholic clergy would not act. The fair mode would be, to place one sum in the hands of the Protestants, and a larger amount, with the same object, in the hands of the Roman Catholics. The subject was one of the highest importance, under existing circumstances.

Mr. H. Grattan

said, he was in possession of letters establishing the fact, that there existed a fixed determination, to neglect no means of converting the rising generation to Protestantism. He felt a strong conviction on this point from what had been said elsewhere regarding a new glorious Reformation. If England and Ireland were to go on together—and he hoped the unfortunate measures of ministers would not render it doubtful—the English people and the English cabinet must make up their minds to allow the great body of the Irish people to remain Catholics. Never had a greater imposition been practised upon credulity than to pretend that this new reformation had a chance of being successful. If persevered in, it must end in disunion and calamity. Nothing could be more alarming than the late accounts from Ireland. Letters from Dublin represented, that a sort of religious crusade had already commenced; and that, while in the churches the most vehement abuse was heard of the Roman Catholic faith, the Roman Catholic priests retaliated in their chapels by attacks equally violent upon the Protestant tenets.

Mr. J. Smith

begged to state it as his opinion, that, if a true reformation of the Roman Catholics was to be effected in the hasty manner pretended by many, all history was a lie, and all deductions from it utterly without foundation. The last four or five hundred years afforded no precedent to show that vehement abuse, and measures of severity, had gained a single sincere proselyte. Conciliation and kindness might do much; but the course now pursued must proceed in discord, and, perhaps, end in actual violence. No man would go further than himself to promote education; but not in the way now adopted by the dominant party in Ireland. The question would come properly before the House when the annual vote for the Kildare-street Society was introduced; but he could not help stating, that some of the reports upon the table contained instances of the most shocking barbarity; and that not a single shilling ought to have been granted, until measures were taken to put a period to such enormities. He heartily concurred in the object of the petition; and he hoped that the good sense of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland would induce him to discourage a course so impolitic and offensive.

Mr. Secretary Peel

thought he could satisfy the hon. member who spoke last, that after the manifestation of opinion, in which he had not shrunk from declaring his acquiescence, the course pursued by the Irish government was the only one that could have been taken. They selected certain aggravated cases pointed out in the reports, and the law officers of the Crown were directed to prosecute: the cases were sent to a jury in the ordinary manner, but the jury had declined to convict. The Irish government had done its duty; for, although it was apprehended that such might be the result, it was thought right that no means of obtaining punishment should be omitted. As to education generally, he had stated his opinions fully upon the subject, when he was in Ireland. At that period, a proposal had been made to him on the subject, by several persons, to whom he had at once declared, that it was extremely desirable, in his opinion, to diffuse the benefits of education as generally throughout Ireland as possible, without exciting any alarm or jealousy, upon the grounds of religion. In consequence of this proposal, and of the views which he had expressed upon the subject, a school had been formed, comprised of every sect without distinction, and a sum had been voted for its support by parliament. It. had always been his wish that the children of Roman Catholic, and of Protestant parents, should receive their education together. It did appear to him; to be of immense importance, that they; should receive their education in the same school, and that from the period of their earliest infancy a line of demarcation should not be drawn between them. It was his wish that education should be given generally and fairly; that both parties should conform to one common plan; that they should receive their instruction from one common source; and that, on Sundays, each sect should imbibe their religious precepts and form of faith from teachers of their respective communions. There were many Roman Catholic children educating at these schools by Roman Catholic masters; and, if any undue attempts were made to convert such children, it was contrary to the original intention and design of the establishment. A system of imparting religious instruction generally, without reference to sects, had been under the consideration of the Roman Catholic prelates, and the prelates of the Church of England. It was the design, that the children should, on Sundays, receive their religious education from the pastors of their respective faiths. He should be extremely sorry to hear that it had been necessary to abandon these schools from any cause whatever.

Mr. Abercromby

said, that nothing could be more desirable than the practical application of those principles which the right hon. gentleman had stated. The: wish that Protestant and Roman Catholic children should be educated under the; same establishment, without any reference to the speculative religious opinions of their respective churches, was most excellent, was most wise and benevolent. He spoke from extensive experience when he declared, that the most serious changes had taken place in Ireland, in consequence of the increased spirit of conflicting parties, and which rendered those sound, virtuous, and rational principles wholly inapplicable to that country, divided and wretched as she was. It was education alone that could raise Ireland from her low and helpless condition, and enable her to assume her rank among nations. The Catholic children would, of course, be withdrawn from these schools, unless they could be sent with a confidence, that their religious opinions would not be undermined; and it would be otherwise utterly hopeless to act upon the principles laid down by the right hon. Secretary of State.

Sir John Newport

said, that whenever the estimates for the Kildare-street Society were brought forward, he would oppose this grant, with a hope of directing its better application.

Sir W. Plunkett

said, he did not wish to prolong a discussion which would be more properly considered by the House, when the estimates, or the report of the committee of inquiry, were brought forward. He was, however, induced to offer a few remarks, in consequence of what had fallen from his learned friend the member for Calne. He perfectly concurred in what, indeed, no man could dissent from; namely, that it was most desirable to establish throughout Ireland a system of common education. The principle was equally true, that, having a system of common education, it should rest upon some religious basis; for any system of education, which was not founded upon such a basis, was always dangerous. The desideratum, therefore, was a common religious instruction, which each party might receive, without danger or offence to the peculiarities of their faith. Such a plan of proceeding had been seriously sought after by various persons. They had endeavoured to put aside all sources of religious jealousies and disputes: so that every class might frequent the schools for one common and general benefit. This had been recommended by gentlemen of conscience and of the most liberal feelings. But his hon. and learned friend had stated, that the hopes held out of carrying this system into effect had proved delusive. He could not, however, by any means agree with him, or go the length of saying that the project had failed. It was necessary to state, that a system had been formed of general religious instruction, to be delivered to the pupils in common and without distinction. The plan would necessarily exclude all but those fundamental and general principles nearly common to all sects. It was meant to contain extracts from the Bible, including so much of the sacred volume as to constitute an epitome, in which nothing essential should be omitted. He believed that this scheme of instruction had been approved by the Roman Catholic bishops of Ireland, as one that could be acted upon with perfect safety by their flocks, As far as they were concerned there was no objection. Notwithstanding the unhappy state of the country, which he regretted as much as any man, the scheme had been acceded to by the Roman Catholic clergy; and nothing was wanting to its completion but the acceptance of it by the heads of the Protestant church. He could not believe that the Protestant prelates were unfavourable to so great a national good, or that they were not anxious to promote such a public benefit. He entertained a hope, that a common principle of religious instruction might be devised, and that the children of Ireland would not be prevented from receiving the benefits of education.

Mr. Secretary Peel

merely wished to say, that he thought the subject of so much importance, that he wished no misunderstanding to go forth, to the effect of creating an impression that any part of the system was to make proselytes. Upon this subject he had only to refer to a Report of the commission appointed for this special purpose—in consequence of an address of that House. In this commission were to be found the names of Mr. Frankland Lewis, Mr. Grant, Mr. Leslie Foster, Mr. Blake, and other gentlemen of intelligence and honour, who embraced either side of the question. The commissioners had entered into the system of the Kildare-street Society referred to in the present debate. The question had been proposed to the commission, Whether the system or practice of the Kildare-street Society was or was not, to make converts of the Roman Catholics to Protestantism? The commissioners had reported that "No fact has come to our knowledge to lead us to doubt their own repeated disclaimers of having any such intention." Mr. Donelan had declared, that if any such design had been entertained by the Society, he would not have acted as the inspector of the schools, and that he had performed that duty, because he was convinced that the association had no intention of pursuing any system of proselytism. They had even protected Roman Catholic children as far as was consistent with their laws. The schoolmaster and mistress of the Society's Model School at Dublin were Roman Catholics. The charges against the Kildare-street Society were grossly exaggerated. He could only say, that if that society had ever attempted a system of proselytism, it had greatly departed from its original principles, and from the designs for which it was established. As to the Roman Catholic priests interrupting these schools, it was not fair to draw, from one or two individuals, an inference prejudicial to the Roman Catholic clergy in general. Out of sixty Roman Catholic clergymen, fifty-three had approved of the school system, and had offered to give it every facility in their respective districts.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, he thought that the Society was, from its principles, utterly disqualified to undertake the care of the education of children in Ireland. He made this assertion with sincerity; but at the same time with much reluctance. The hon. member for Waterford had declared his intention of moving, that the subject of education in Ireland should be referred to a select committee. He trusted that the House would then indulge him with a patient hearing; for he was convinced that there were no means of acquiring any moral influence over the people of Ireland, but by establishments of public education. By the present system, boys in early life would be told, when they associated at school, that no difference existed between them, on account of their religious opinions; but when they arrived at the age when the passions were strong, they would be told, that a great difference did exist, and that those who were Catholics must go on one side as a disqualified, proscribed race. A system of divided education was certainly a great evil; but it was the necessary consequence of a divided people, and of divided institutions.

Colonel Trench

trusted that the Kildare-street Society were not lending themselves to any system of proselytism. He believed that the mistaken zeal of those benevolent persons who endeavoured to make proselytes was the great impediment to the diffusion of education, upon which mainly depended the welfare of the country. The Roman Catholic priests, who were favourably disposed to public instruction, had often been controlled by their bishops; and those bishops had been guided by orders from the pope.

Ordered to lie on the table.