HC Deb 14 July 1831 vol 4 cc1253-61
Sir R. Bateson

presented a Petition from a numerous and respectable body of his constituents, in favour of the Kildare Street Society, against which several petitions had been presented, but which was a Society eminently conducive to the welfare of Ireland. He had several other petitions of the same nature to present, but had been unable to find an opportunity of doing so, from the great pressure of business. The petitioners urged as a proof of the great benefit of the Kildare Street Society, that it now had established 16,000 schools, with 132,000 scholars, a large proportion of whom were Roman Catholics. It had also furnished 2,184 teachers, trained in a most excellent manner. The petition went on to state, that people were tranquil or violent, virtuous or vicious, in proportion as they were imbued with the principles, of Christianity, which it was the great object of this Society to inculcate. It was signed by persons of various religious persuasions. He cordially concurred with their statements, and begged to move, that the petition be brought up.

Mr. Theobald Jones

wished to add his testimony to the great respectability of the petitioners, and to the benefit derived from the institution. The hon. member for Kerry, who had repeatedly exclaimed against this Society, had said there would be no objection to money being granted, if it were not given to an exclusively religious body. For four years the Roman Catholics had not availed themselves of the benefits afforded; but he had now letters from various persons of that persuasion, slating that they had been mis- taken as to the nature and objects of the Society. They had believed that they could not conscientiously agree with the system of education pursued by it, but this objection they had discovered was ill-founded, as there was nothing contrary to their religious tenets in the mode of education followed by the Society. He gave his cordial support to the prayer of the petition.

Mr. O'Connell

thought, that the gentlemen of this Society must be of a nature rather extraordinary, as they professed to know the doctrines of Catholics better than their Bishops and Clergy. He had subscribed to the Society, being misled by its prospectus, which promised equal favour to all religious persuasions. This was, however, a false pretence, and this Society had misled many by such pretences. If the Society was good for Protestants, let them support it, but let the same liberty be allowed to Catholics, and if they acted under the influence of prejudice or error, let them alone so long as they did not attempt to force their doctrines upon others. The objections urged against Catholics were, that they would not read the Bible without note or comment, or have it made a school-book. One part of this had been answered by the Protestant Bishops themselves, and there he would leave it. When that Society was so useful, it was extraordinary that only one petition had been presented in its favour. The Catholics wished to bring up their children themselves; they did not desire to be interfered with, or interfere with others. There was a great deal of fine writing in the petition, but notwithstanding that he hoped the Society would be put an end to. All he asked was, and he expected it from the present Government, that any grant for the purpose of education should be fairly distributed; Protestants, Dissenters, Presbyterians and Catholics, all to have their share, and dispose of it according to their own modes.

Mr. North

said, the particular point objected to by the hon. and learned Member, who had described himself as having been a subscriber to the Society, and to have withdrawn from it on being deceived by its prospectus, had always been mentioned in its printed Regulations. The hon. and learned member for Kerry must have been very remiss not to have known that the regulations of the Society prescribed the use of the Bible, without note or comment, as a school-book. This was printed in the regulations, which the hon. Member might have had if he had chosen.

Mr. James E. Gordon

, as one thoroughly acquainted with that Society, rose to say, there had been no deviation from its established rules since they were first drawn up. He must also say, there was a great discrepancy between the opinion of the hon. and learned member for Kerry, and the opinion of those most competent to form a deliberate opinion, for the Commissioners of Inquiry had returned, that there were sixty-seven of the society's schools under the superintendance of Roman Catholic Priests, who must be as good judges of orthodoxy as the hon. Member himself. He had no wish to discuss the matter at present, but could not allow the hon. Member's statement to go forth uncontradicted.

Mr. Hume

advocated the course pointed out by the hon. member for Kerry; for if any money was to be given, nothing could be fairer than that part should be given to the Catholics and part to the Protestants, allowing each class to educate their children as they liked: but to him it was a wonder that the present system was continued, when out of 8,000,000, 6,000,000 of them were Catholics. Why, therefore, should not something like a proportional distribution of money take place? If this manner of treating the subject had not been felt as a grievance, what had caused the great body of petitions to be presented, complaining" of the proceedings of the Kildare Street Society? He must pronounce this Society to be a remnant of the barbarous laws lately repealed, and no system so illiberal should be kept up. He thought his hon. friend, the member for Kerry, too passive in not more strongly opposing the Grant. There might be hundreds of schools under the charge of Catholic Priests, but that had nothing to do with the subject, for until the public money, granted for the purpose of education, should be fairly distributed, complaints would be constantly before them.

Colonel Torrens

said, that as education was properly looked to, as one of the great objects of society care should be taken that its diffusion should be as general as possible and he considered it most unfair to tax Catholics for the support of a system of education they disliked. Nothing, however, could be fairer than that each sect should exclusively deal with the religious education of its own people.

Colonel Conolly

was a member of the Kildare Street Society, whose system of education was admirably calculated to bring up the young of all classes in the bonds of amity and Christian love. In the Model Schools at Celbridge the pupils received the elements of scriptural education, there was no doctrine propagated nor book used by the Society which could arouse party feelings. He had seen the advantages derived from the care of the society on his own estate, where there were more than 1,000 persons, who had been educated by it. The system substituted good and discriminating education, for the bad customs that had previously prevailed. He must also declare, that the object of the Society had been, to inculcate the best and highest principles; and the system it followed was altogether fitted to make men good Christians and good subjects. It was the greatest political engine that had yet been introduced into Ireland. Its character and its proceedings were both guaranteed by the high and distinguished men who constituted the Society. It numbered among its members men of the highest character and the most eminent talents, and men of as liberal views and great virtue as any in the empire.

Mr. Spring Rice

had been the chairman of the Select Committee on the subject of Irish Education, and could not let the occasion pass without one or two observations, although he wished that this matter should not be entered upon until the question of education came, as it soon would, fully before the House. The Kildare Street Society was made a kind of political and religious engine, and he disapproved of either politics or religion being made to interfere with the great work of instruction; and as both were allowed a place in the system of this body, he, on that account, had strong objections to it. When the hon. Gentleman asserted, that the system had worked well, he said nothing about the opinions of the Education Commissioners or of the Select Committee of the House of Commons. He admitted that the Society had published good books, and had diminished the circulation of others of an opposite tendency, and as far as the model schools went, the system was excellent; but it was altogether a different question, whether the society worked well on the disposition of the people. If it pro- duced only union, as was said, he would support it, but, unhappily, discord was the prevalent feature in many of its effects. As to Scriptural education, there were no schools in which that was more attended to, of course with reference to their own tenets, than in schools exclusively Roman Catholic; therefore the opposition of the Roman Catholic Clergy was not to a religious education, but to the proselytism, which engaged too much of the attention of the Society. It appeared clearly that there were two kinds of doctrine in the Society, one professed, and the other acted upon, and it was this which rendered it unpalatable to the Catholics.

Mr. More O'Ferrall

fully agreed with the statement just made by the hon. member for Limerick, and he also approved of what had been said by the hon. member for Kerry. He should, in a few days, present a petition from a place where the principles of the Kildare Street Society and its schools had failed of success. From the system of proselytism that was attempted to be established, the Society was generally disliked by the Catholics. He had at one time cordially co-operated with the Society, but he had found that religious principles of the poorer classes were interfered with unless protected by Gentlemen of their own persuasion, and he had then withdrawn himself from it. He knew, that the same reason had induced many Catholic gentlemen to withdraw from all connexion with it.

Sir John Brydges

felt himself called upon to bear testimony to the good effects produced by this Society, and as it was generally acknowledged in Ireland, that it had worked well, it ought to be encouraged, and no attempt should be made to put it down. But as there would soon be a more suitable opportunity to discuss the question, he would not further enter into it at that time.

Lord Killeen

observed, that the greatest antipathy towards this Society prevailed on the part of the people, which would always prevent it from doing any good; its chief effects at present were heart-burnings and discord, although the hon. member for Drogheda had declared, that its great object was, to promote union and harmony. Gentlemen of both sides naturally and invariably advocated their own peculiar views. The hon. member for Dundalk had said, that sixty-seven of the Roman Catholic Clergy were favourable to its principles, and pre- sided over its schools—but what was this among about 3,000 members of the Catholic priesthood. He could state, there was a great avidity for education in general, but the people derived little advantage from this Society, because its system did not harmonize with their feelings.

Mr. Wyse

said, that the hon. member for Donegal had affected to insist on facts, which he requested to be allowed to answer. The Kildare Street Society professed zeal for the education of the people—but surely the first thing to be ascertained was, whether their system was agreeable to those for whose benefit it was designed. Education was matter of choice, not of compulsion, and men would not choose to be educated against their own opinion and interests; therefore, until hon. Gentlemen had proved, that the Irish people were satisfied with their system, they actually proved nothing at all. On this point the whole question turned, and on it he was completely at issue with hon. Gentlemen. Whatever might be the case in the North of Ireland, in that part which stood in the most need of education, he meant the South of Ireland, the people, far from acquiescing in the designs of the Kildare Street Society, used every effort to provide education for their children independent of it. In the town of Thurles, in the county of Tipperary, with a population of only 8,000 or 9,000, 1,000 poor children were educated exclusively by Roman Catholics. The teachers were the Christian Brothers, and other religious communities in the town. They were wholly unsupported by the Stale. The Catholics were also erecting in the same town an extensive college for the education of the Catholic Clergy. The Catholics both educated their own children, and provided for their own Clergy, without the assistance of any grant whatsoever; while a Kildare Street Society School in the neighbourhood remained with its doors shut up and its windows broken. He did not say, that the Kildare Street Society did not originally intend to promote the general education of the poor, but it had connected itself with other Societies of a proselytising description, and did not act honestly to the people of Ireland. Unless, therefore, it was altogether separated from this system of proselytism, the people neither would nor ought to receive any thing from it.

Sir Robert Inglis

observed, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had repeated an opinion which had before been stated, that in a system of national education the Legislature ought to consider the creed of those who were to be instructed, and not the national creed. Against this opinion he must dissent; he never would be a party to teaching any man a system of faith which he believed to be erroneous, and contrary to the will of the Almighty. The distinction he had always taken was, that rulers were bound to provide the means of religious worship and instruction for the people, according to their own conscience and sense of right, leaving to all who differed from them the fullest liberty to have their own chapels and schools as they pleased. And when the hardship of taxing the Catholic of Ireland to pay for the instruction of Protestants, was complained of—he, in return, said, look at Maynooth, which received an annual grant from Parliament. He would not further enter into the merits of the Kildare Street Society, than to say, that so far from thinking it bigotted or exclusive, he had felt objections to it, because it did not go far enough towards giving a complete and doctrinal religious education on the principles of the natonal Church.

Mr. Anthony Lefroy

begged to be permitted to deny the statement of the hon. member for Tipperary. He declared, without hesitation, that the Kildare Street Society was not connected with any other society whatever. He must also express his astonishment at the accusations of the honorable member for Kildare (Mr. More O'Ferrall). He had, within a few days, seen a correspondence between that hon. Gentleman and the Society, commenced by that gentleman, with a view to obtain money and school-books from the Society, for schools on his own property, which he received. In that correspondence, the hon. Member had declared his approbation of the rules and principles of the Society, and added a statement of the satisfaction which these had given to the parents of the children, and the priest of the parish. The hon. Gentleman had, indeed, since withdrawn from the Society, without assigning any reason. He would make no comments on that, further than to say, that the withdrawal took place within a month after he had applied for and received a new grant for other schools.

Lord Killeen

said, he had become a member of the Society, because he believed it might be useful, but left it when he discovered it was not so.

Petition laid on the Table.

Sir Robert Bateson

was astonished that a debate had been got up, for he had presented the petition without making any invidious remarks, contenting himself with reading a few paragraphs from the petition, when a number of gentlemen started up to attack the Society, although, when several petitions had been presented in the early part of the, evening against the Society, not a word had been said. Hon. Gentlemen who talked most of liberality, were generally the most illiberal in their conduct. It had been asserted, that the system pursued by the Society was exclusive; but in answer to that, he had a petition to present from the Synod of Ulster, which presided over half-a-million of Presbyterians, praying that the parliamentary grant might not be reduced. He had been also disappointed by the course the hon. member for Limerick had pursued, for he had hoped, that the cause of education, of peace, and Christian knowledge, would have had his support. He must also deny, that the Society endeavoured to make proselytes. Its schools were open to all sects, it used no catechisms, taught no peculiar religions doctrine, but merely afforded to children who were able to read, the knowledge of the word of God, without note or comment. A political and religious party, for their own purposes, raised a cry for putting down the Society, although he was confident it conduced to the peace and tranquillity of Ireland.

Mr. James E. Gordon

said, there were two assertions made by the hon. member for Limerick, which he must hereafter call on him to justify by facts—the first was, that the Roman Catholic Clergy exerted themselves as much as the Clergy of the Established Church, for the spread of Scriptural education; the second was, that the Kildare Street Society had one system for the initiated, and another for the uninitiated—in proof of which he referred to the evidence of the hon. member for Dundalk. He merely mentioned these subjects now, that the hon. Gentleman might be prepared for any questions that might be hereafter put to him.

Mr. O'Connell

regretted, that he was obliged to say a few words. What had been asserted respecting the Report of the Special Committee, and the adoption of the system of education recommended by the Royal Commissioners to the Roman Catholics, was not correct? When it was boasted that the Kildare Street Society educated 132,000 children, it must be remembered it was at an expense of 25,000l. per annum, while the Roman Catholic Clergy, out of their miserable means, without any expense whatever to the public, educated 58,000 children; he had heard the remarks made by the hon. member for Oxford with great regret.

Petition to be printed.