HC Deb 05 August 1831 vol 5 cc818-25
Colonel Perceval

presented two Petitions from the parish of Seagoe, and Landowners and other Inhabitants of the county of Armagh, against the grant to Maynooth College.

Mr. Wyse

begged to inquire, on what ground the petitioners prayed for the discontinuance of the grant.

Colonel Perceval

said, not on the ground of hostility to the Roman Catholic religion. There was nothing in the petition reflecting on any sect whatever.

Mr. Brownlow

admitted, that many of the petitioners were highly respectable persons, but he regretted that at this time of day, any such petitions should have come from that county. He was compelled to differ from his constituents. It was of great consequence, that the Catholic priesthood of Ireland should be respectably educated; and he thought it was unwise and illiberal to wish to withhold a grant for that purpose, which was not equal to the revenue of many Irish Protestant Bishops. The college of Maynooth was intended for the education of the Catholic priesthood; it had received the approbation of the Government. If the vote for Maynooth was proposed to be enlarged, to induce a more respectable class of students to frequent the College, it would meet with his entire approbation.

Mr. Wyse

said, the College was originally instituted, not for the benefit of Catholics exclusively, but to satisfy the scruples of certain persons, who believed that the Catholic clergy, by being educated abroad, imbibed a spirit of discontent to the established order of things at home, which they afterwards promulgated among their flocks in Ireland, so as to affect their allegiance. The College was founded on this notion, and received 13,000l. a year when first established. This sum was reduced to 9,000l. under Mr. Perceval's Administration, from a hostile religious feeling; but as that, he hoped, was now passing away, there could be no motive but economy for withholding the small sum by which the College was maintained. In what a situation if it were withheld, would the Catholic Clergy be placed. As long as there were Catholics in Ireland, it was important they should be well educated. The Dublin College was comparatively closed against the Catholics; if it was to be opened, and made a national establishment, there would then be sufficient grounds for discontinuing this grant. It was to be lamented, that we did not imitate other nations, where a mixed religion prevailed. In the German Universities, both sects enjoyed equal advantages, and even in Catholic Austria, there were two Colleges for the education of the Lutherans. The same liberal conduct was observable throughout Germany, and, if it were adopted in Ireland, it would be of considerable advantage to the community.

Sir. Newport

said, having read one of the petitions, he must complain of the stigmas cast upon an institution, which was most respectably conducted. He believed some parts of the petition were so objectionable, that it could not be received. It was asserted therein, that the students were nurtured in sentiments inimical to the peace of the country. The College of Maynooth was formed, in order to have the Irish Priesthood educated at home, rather than in France; and had well answered the purposes for which it was erected. If improper doctrines were taught at Maynooth, what were the visitors—the Lord Chancellor and Chief Justice of Ireland—doing? They had periodically visited the College, and inquired into the particulars of the education and doctrines taught therein, and when they had found cause for complaint, their complaints had been attended to, and the cause removed. The truth was, there was no ground for any charge against so respectable an establishment. He should object to the reception of the petition.

Mr. Lefroy

denied, that the College of Dublin was exclusive. Catholics there could obtain Degrees, and, if they did not choose to attend the chapel, they were excused. It was true, the Fellowships and Scholarships could be obtained only by Protestants. He hoped never to see the latitudinarian system of the German Universities, which admitted of the establishment of opposite professorships, to teach conflicting religious doctrines, established in the Dublin University.

Mr. Wyse

had himself been educated at the University of Dublin, and, therefore, could not, and had not asserted, that it was shut against any sect for the purpose of receiving education only. He regretted, however, that Catholics were not permitted to enjoy the honours and emoluments of it, in common with Protestants, and he had referred to the more generous conduct of other countries in this respect, where a system of education, which he denied was latitudinarian, was open to all, without limitation on the score of religion.

Sir Robert Bateson

objected to the discussion. It was not provoked by the hon. Member who presented this petition. He denied, too, that the petition was from a Catholic county, for Armagh was known to be the reverse, and he hoped the hon. Member for that county would speak in the same spirit of liberality as he had just done, when they came to discuss the grant to the Kildare Street Society. His opinion was, that petitions like the present, would not have been offered to the notice of the House, if it were not for the opposition made to the grant for the Kildare Street Society. He wished to promote education, and do away those discords and animosities which had so long prevailed in Ireland. He believed, that education was not liberal at Maynooth, and, in fact, that it was directed by Jesuits. The students were excluded from all intercourse with persons of other persuasions, and that of itself must prevent the Catholic Clergy from being as liberal as they otherwise might be. When the College was established, it might have been good policy to educate the priests at home, owing to the particular circumstances of that period; but all persons with whom he came in contact agreed, that the priests now educated abroad, were more liberal and learned than those brought up at Maynooth; they were, in fact, a superior class of people. Most of those sent to Maynooth were from the humbler classes, and nothing liberal or enlightened could be expected from them.

Mr. O'Ferrall

said, he could confidently state, that no improper doctrines had been taught at Maynooth, as would be abundantly proved by a reference to the evidence taken before the Committee on Education in Ireland. If he had any objection to the education at Maynooth, it was, that their principles were rather despotically than liberally inclined. They wanted a national system of education in Ireland, in which the children of all sects should be admitted. The Professors at Maynooth were so strict, that all newspapers and political tracts were excluded from the College.

Sir Josiah Host

was as anxious as any Gentleman, for a system of national and conciliatory education to be established in Ireland; sound policy recommended this, and they ought to endeavour to distribute the grants equally among all the different sects.

Mr. James Gordon

considered the doctrines taught at Maynooth unchristian, and those who professed them ought not to be permitted to obtain any political advantage whatever. This was the true Protestant ground which the people of this country were generally about to take, as the House would find, when their Table was covered by petitions. He held it to be an act of gross inconsistency in a Protestant country and Government, to support an establishment for the education of Priests, who were using every effort to vilify and upset it. Why should a Protestant Government annually devote money to the propagation of doctrines which Protestants believed to be neither just nor scriptural? It was said, that the Catholic Priests ought to receive a liberal education; and so they ought, in the proper sense of the word liberal; but he totally denied, that Maynooth afforded a good Catholic education to the Priesthood. Their character had been much lessened, in consequence of the illiberal system in which they were educated. Nor was this all. There was the greatest inconsistency in making this annual grant to Maynooth. Year after year this country was making grants for the diffusion of Protestant and sound principles in Ireland, and yet, year after year, they were supporting a Catholic establishment, to withstand the effect of their Protestant institutions. He did not now mean to say, whether the doctrines taught by the Catholics were right or wrong—the House of Commons was not the proper place to discuss them—but again he repeated, that the conduct of a Protestant Government, in supporting a Catholic establishment, which maintained doctrines of a dangerous tendency, was exceedingly anomalous and inconsistent. He would not, however, enter further on this subject at present, as, when the grant to Maynooth was brought forward, he should be fully prepared to oppose it. But, as he was on his legs, he would crave the attention of the House, while he adverted to a subject which he felt to be of very considerable importance.

Mr. O'Connell rose to order; the hon. Member was about to open the question of the Carlow—

Mr. James Gordon

said, unless the hon. and learned Member had the gift of prophecy or divination, he could not tell to what he was about to allude, and he would not satisfy him further than to assert again, that it was most grossly inconsistent, to endow a College for the education of Priests, who were opposed to scriptural education. He did not mean to blame the Priests, for in their situation, he believed he should act with more zeal than many of them did. With one hand they gave 40,000l. to support education on Christian principles, and with the other, 9,000l. to destroy it.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the hon. member for Dundulk had ample opportunities of entering into theological discussions elsewhere, and he had hoped he would not have chosen that House, which certainly was not a very fit arena for theological display. He had termed the Catholic doctrines unchristian. He did not know how far the hon. Member's Christian charity might carry him, but the same spirit which he had evinced might be sufficient to qualify him for the office of Chief Inquisitor of Spain. He had also attacked the priests, who he (Mr. O'Connell) declared were most exemplary, and most diligent in their attention to the temporal, as well as spiritual wants, of the poor of their flocks. They had the entire confidence of the people, whom they assisted and comforted upon all occasions, when they were deserted by all the rest of the world. They were to be found by the bed-sides of the poor and destitute, when they were ill, or on the point of death, and so well was this known, that they might judge of the health of a district during the prevalence of contagious disorders, by the number of priests who died; yet these were the men who were calumniated. Three hours each day were the students employed in reading the Scriptures, and yet the hon. Member had the hardihood to assert, they did not receive a Scriptural education. There had been strict examinations into the system of the College, by the Chancellor and Judges of Ireland, who had made no complaints of the education given at Maynooth. He knew the students well, and could assert, that few bodies of young men in any place of education possessed more extensive information than they did. He was utterly surprised at the hon. Member's zeal in support of the exclusive Church of England, when the hon. Member, in his own country, was a Dissenter—he belonged to the Episcopal Church, while the mass of his countrymen were Presbyterians, and regarded" the cope of his Bishop as a rag of the Scarlet Whore. He (Mr. O'Connell) was for no exclusive Church—and hoped the time would come, when every man would resort to his priest as to his doctor or lawyer, and pay the man whose aid he might require. As to the grant for Maynooth, of which some hon. Members seemed to think so much, he could assure them, that no such grants need have been required, if the Catholic families of Ireland had obtained that compensation to which they were entitled, for the loss of the property which some of their ancestors had expended in foundations in France, for the education of youth intended for orders in the Catholic Church in Ireland. The British Government obtained a large sum from France as a compensation for losses sustained by British subjects at the French Revolution. Of that sum, the Irish Catholic families obtained no part for the losses they had sustained, in the way he had described, though, in justice, they had a claim to 150,000l. Had those foundations in France stood in the same situation as before the Revolution, he should, in right of his family, have a presentation for thirty-six Catholic divinity students. At present he had only four. Let hon. Members, when the grant of 9,0001. a-year was proposed, recollect these circumstances. He wanted no partial liberality—give, he would say, to the Kildare Street Society, the management of any funds necessary to educate Protestants, as it had their confidence; but do the same to Maynooth, which possesses the confidence of the Catholics.

Mr. Hunt

must be permitted to remark, in reply to the hon. and gallant Member's assertion that the Table would be covered with petitions against this grant, that such petitions would only come from Scotland, to which country the hon. Gentleman belonged. He thought the present petition most uncharitable in its doctrines, and should feel no regret to see it rejected on that account. He must corroborate what had fallen from the hon. and learned member for Kerry, as to the exemplary conduct and great intelligence of the Irish Catholic Clergy, as far as he had had opportunities of knowing them, in this country, and the west of Ireland.

Mr. James Grattan

hoped, that the hon. and gallant member for Dundalk, having failed in his theological contests in Ireland, would not now try his hand in the House of Commons in the same line. If he did, he hoped that he would have the courtesy to give notice of his intention. Although he had no wish to enter into the question of religion, yet he must remark, that Maynooth College was established by Mr. Pitt, at the recommendation of Mr. Burke, and he knew that the clergymen educated there, were a most exemplary and meritorious body, devotedly attached to their flocks.

Mr. Cresset Pelham

was surprised at the last hon. Gentleman replying to remarks which he had not heard.

Sir John Doyle

complained of the illiberality of many of the Protestant Clergymen, and gave an instance by reading a letter from a reverend Rector (Mr. Featherston) of Hachetstown, county Carlow, who declined distributing money sent for that purpose to the Protestant poor of his parish, because he disliked the politics of the donor (Sir John M. Doyle) as being a supporter of Reform. The hon. and gallant member for Dundalk had preached much respecting the harmony of the Gospels. It were to be wished that he would adopt the practice, and avoid such discussions in this House, which must interrupt the harmony so much to be desired. For one sixpence we gave the Catholics, they gave pounds to the Protestants; and the less was said upon this subject, the better for the Protestants.

Colonel Perceval

said, he had not intended to excite any angry feeling in presenting this petition. He meant not to attack the College of Maynooth, but he must say, that in the opinions of Catholics themselves, the priests educated there fell far short of those educated elsewhere, in acquirements and liberal feelings. As allusion had been made to the hon. and gallant member for Dundalk, he must say, that no man stood higher in the estimation of those who knew him in Ireland, than that hon. and gallant Member.

Petition to lie on the Table.