HC Deb 10 December 1830 vol 1 cc975-80
Mr. Owen O'Connor

presented Petitions against any further grant to the Kildare Street Society, for the Education of the Poor in Ireland, from Kilglass, Balla and Drum, Kilfinora, and the united parishes of Aglish, Ballyhear, and Breafy. The contents of all these petitions, the hon. Member said, were the same; they all complained of the various abuses which existed in the management of the Kildare Street Society. He considered these petitions well deserving of the attention of the House. He had often heard, that this Society had proved a great benefit to the Roman Catholics of Ireland, but he must confess, that he never met with any proof of that assertion. He trusted, that his Majesty's Ministers would take this subject into consideration, and adopt measures to make the grants, which are given exclusively to this Society, of advantage to all Ireland.

Sir Robert Bateson

said, several petitions on this subject had been presented to the House, signed by bigotted and interested persons, which he had not thought it worth while to comment upon, although they contained allegations which it was in his power to disprove; but, when he saw petitions of this nature presented by so respectable and worthy a Gentleman as he who introduced these to the notice of the House, he should not be fulfilling the duties which he owed to his constituents, and his country generally, if he did not stand up to protest against the doctrines contained in them. The hon. Member could not be aware of the general principles which governed the acts of that Society; and if he rightly understood the rule of conduct it pursued, he could not possibly object to the management of the grants bestowed upon the Society by Parliament. So far from being established for the encouragement of any particular religious persuasion — so far from its advocating any one particular cause, the only fault ever found with the Society, though he did not think it a fault—was, that it was too liberal in its religious principles. The Society had been grossly maligned, and an ignorant prejudice had been excited against it, by persons who had been hawking petitions about the country for signature. He knew no institution whatever that had been productive of so much good as the Kildare-place Society in instructing the lower orders of Ireland, and he must repel the charge of its schools not being open to every sect. He could most positively state, that the benefits of that institution were conferred in an equal degree on Catholics and on Protestants, and he conscientiously believed, that more Roman Catholic schoolmasters, and more Roman Catholic children, had been educated and brought up by that Society than Protestants. The strongest objection stated by the petitioners was, that the Scriptures were read in the Society's school without note or comment. Was there any Gentleman in the House who would stand up and object to the Bible being open to the perusal of the people? When hon. Gentlemen were somewhat fond of boasting of their liberal principles, which, by-the-bye, they did not, in these times, always act upon, was it not astonishing to hear Gentlemen declare, that the people, either of England or Ireland, ought not to be allowed to peruse the word of God without note or comment. He did not expect to hear such a declaration made in any place, but the House of Commons of England was the very last place in which he thought such a doctrine would be broached. He did not impute improper motives to the hon. Gentleman who pre- sented these petitions; on the contrary, he merely stated the language of his constituents, as in duty bound. These petitions were, however, got up by bigoted and interested individuals, desirous of putting down this excellent institution, and were readily signed by a set of people who knew nothing of its principles—nothing of the manner in which the Society was conducted, who never read any of the books used by it, and who never were even within the walls of its schools. He hoped and trusted that the Parliament of the United Kingdom would protect that Society, and not diminish the grants, which confer benefit equally on Catholics and Protestants. As to the manner in which the funds are appropriated, there was no institution in the empire in which greater economy was practised, and in which less useless expense took place, than in the Kildare-place Society. Representing a county in the north of Ireland, and knowing a great deal of the principles of the people of the north of Ireland, the majority of whom were of the Presbyterian Church, he could take upon himself to state, that into schools in which the Bible was not read without note or comment, their children would not be allowed to enter. They wished their children to be instructed in the word of God, and made good Christians, as well as educated in the affairs of this life. The Kildare-street Society enjoyed the good wishes of all the Presbyterian clergy in the north of Ireland. He challenged any country in the world to produce a more useful institution. When persons were sent up to the central school, their religion was never inquired into, the majority of them were Catholics, and they taught the duties of a schoolmaster or school- mistress. They were remunerated, not in proportion to the number of children placed under their care, but in proportion to the progress the children made; to ascertain which, inspectors were appointed, who went about the school, and made their reports on the state of improvement in which they found the children. He most earnestly implored the House not to credit the asseverations contained in those petitions; they were not founded in fact, and he most earnestly implored those Gentlemen who might have taken up a prejudice against the charity, to pause before they took away from his poor countrymen the benefit conferred by this institution, He had to apologize to the House for trespassing so long on its attention; perhaps the hon. and learned member for Waterford would wish to monopolize the consideration of the affairs of his country, and to exclude every other Irishman from discussing its interests; he was, however, as independent, and as much attached to Ireland, as the hon. and learned Member, who might more usefully direct the energies of his great mind to the improvement of his country, than by constantly harping on the Repeal of the Union, which would, in his opinion, amount to a total separation of the two countries. In conclusion, the hon. Baronet begged to apologise for having trespassed so long on the attention of the House.

Mr. O'Connell

was not to be tempted into following the hon. Baronet, the member for Londonderry, into a discussion on the merits of the Kildare-street Society — "sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." He merely wished to observe, that as to the utility of the Kildare-street Society, he differed from the hon. Baronet. He denied that the Society was popular in Ireland; on the contrary, it was one of the most unpopular that ever existed. It was not unpopular in the county which the hon. Member represented, but the inhabitants of that county entertained different opinions on most subjects from the inhabitants of other parts of Ireland. The Gentleman who last represented them lost his scat because he dared to vote in favour of Catholic Emancipation. He had no doubt that the Society was very well received by them. The hon. Baronet probably subscribed to it because he wished to encourage education. The Society professed a great deal, and unfortunately had not convinced him of the truth of its professions. Its acts, however, were contrary to its professions; and he had left it in consequence. But, he did not retire alone; on the very day on which he resigned, the noble President, the Duke of Leinster, Lord Cloncurry, and many other gentlemen resigned, and for the same reason. The Catholic clergy of Ireland condemned the Society. He did not mean to argue theological points, but the hon. Member had thought fit to introduce one, and he would not shrink, either in that House or in any other place, from defending the doctrines of the religion he professed. He objected to allowing the word of God to be placed in the hands of Catholic children without note or comment; he did not object to its being so placed in the hands of Protestants; they had a right to use it in any shape they thought fit, and he should be the last man to interfere with the exercise of any such right. He objected, however, to any Protestant having it in his power to go to the children of Catholic parents, and impose on them a mode of instruction of which the parents did not approve. The Catholic clergy inculcated the principles by which the people wished to abide— the Protestants might have schools, as many as they pleased; all that the Catholics wanted was, that their children should be educated in the manner their parents thought proper. The hon. member for Londonderry seemed not to be aware of the fact, that a Select Committee of the House, which rigidly inquired into this very subject, ultimately agreed with the Catholics, and called on the House to make no further grants to the Kildare-street Society. The hon. Baronet seemed to think it a great blessing that Roman Catholic children should receive an education of which their parents did not approve, while the Protestant children should be educated in a manner of which their parents did approve; and both were to be educated together. Now, the Catholic clergy proposed, that they should be educated together, but that one day in the week should be set apart for religious education, on which the children of Catholics and Protestants should be instructed separately. He would put it to any man whether the Catholics had not a right to educate their children in such religious tenets as they pleased? He would appeal to the hon. member for Londonderry himself, whether they had not an equal right with the Protestants so to do? He was ready to admit that the Presbyterians wished their children to be educated in the manner practised by the Society. Well, let the Presbyterians be educated as they chose, the Catholics as they chose —that was all the latter required. The hon. Member had charged him with a species of inconsistency, and if he ever wished to interfere with the religious principles of any human being, he would allow that hon. Member to charge him with anything. He had never so interfered, or uttered a sentiment that tended to interference. He entertained a firm conviction that religion was an affair between man and his God; and he who interfered on the subject might call himself a Christian, but other men would call him a blasphemer. He could bear, with the utmost complacency, the boasts of the Presbyterians, knowing that the world was greatly indebted to them for the liberties it possessed, and feeling, as he did, a high degree of respect for the independent members of that body. But let them be content to do by the Catholics as the Catholics would do by them — leave the latter to educate their children as they pleased.

Mr. Lefroy

did not intend to delay the House by offering many observations on the subject. No man could regret more than he did, that the time of the House should be occupied by discussions of that nature. The hon. Baronet, however, was fully justified in making his observations relative to the Kildare-place Society, and he should himself be unworthy of his seat in that House if he did not declare that it was a most useful institution. He differed from the opinion of the hon. member for Waterford as to the popularity of the Society; and if the Government wished to preserve the Union, and the security of the two parts of the empire, it would encourage a system which gave education to 120,000 children, Catholics and Protestants.

Sir J. Newport

observed, that the Society was one which derived its support from grants of the public money, and that being the case, the proper time for discussing its merits would be when those grants should be next proposed. There could be no objection to the proceedings of the Society, so long as it was willing to afford education in such a manner as persons of different religious persuasions could approve of: the complaint against the Society was, that its principle necessarily excluded a considerable number of the people of Ireland from the benefits of that education, which the national grants were destined to promote.

Petition to lie on the Table.