HC Deb 09 April 1832 vol 12 cc80-4
Mr. Strickland

presented a Petition, which was of much importance, as showing a great sympathy of the English in favour of the Irish: it was from Liversedge, in the West Riding of York, in favour of the Government system of Education in Ireland, signed by 1,425 persons, and agreed to by a public meeting, which was so numerous that it was obliged to be adjourned to the open air. The hon. Member thought that many of the objections made to the proposed plan were founded on mistake; he was sure that it would tend much towards the tranquillity and happiness of Ireland. He was sure, too, that the people of England would be glad to hear that the new system was likely to be generally adopted, and that there had already been 200 applications to the new Board for assistance. It was, in his opinion, certain that education would be more extensively diffused by the plan of the present Government than ever had been by the Kildare-place Society, which was well known to be obnoxious to a great portion of the Irish nation.

Mr. James E. Gordon

said, he would now explain how this petition was got up. A meeting had been called by thirty clergymen, not for the discussion of affairs in general, but the invitation was limited to the friends of scriptural education for the purpose of agreeing to an address to the Throne. After the advertisement had been read, a number of the persons broke up the meeting by violence and uproar, and got up a meeting of their own, at which this petition was agreed to. He thought he might infer that the opinion of the well-informed persons was against the Government plan.

Sir John Johnstone

said, the hon. Member was so complacent to the persons of his own party, that he confined all the sound thinking to that side. He saw no reason why the respectable persons who had signed the petition were not as fully competent to give an opinion as those who had called the meeting, but had been outvoted.

Mr. Harvey

was surprised to hear so many objections to the proposed plan, and so many complaints against Government for taking the paltry annual grant of 15,000l. a-year from the Kildare-street Society, when he supposed that there was enough of Protestant virtue, and Protestant liberality in Ireland to make up that sum if they pleased, and so prevent the Kildare-street Society from perishing. It was not more than half of the annual income of some of the Bishops of Ireland, and why, therefore, should they complain of the Government when it was in their own power to perpetuate their favourite Kildare-street Society; for if they chose to keep up that establishment, it was not in the power of Government to prevent it. The fact, he believed, was that petitions against the new system were got up for party purposes, and not from any regard for the Scriptures or religion; but he was glad the people of England had shown more good sense than to be deceived by any such delusions.

Mr. Wyse

said, the Protestant Church of Ireland was bound to educate their flocks, whom they entirely neglected. The want of education in Ireland was owing in a great degree to the Protestant clergy, into whose hands had fallen the funds originally destined for education. The present was a plan similar to those adopted throughout Europe, and found to be attended with advantage.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, that he must assert in opposition to the hon. Member for Tipperary, the character of the Protestant clergy of Ireland, and their zeal for the education of the people, were above all praise. The observation of the hon. member for Colchester was not founded on fact. The Bishops of Ireland had not 30,000l. a-year, and as to the sum of 15,000l. being collected by the Protestants, that had nothing to do with the matter. He begged to observe that it was not a question of pounds, shillings, and pence, but it concerned an excellent plan of religious education, to which his Majesty's Government had hitherto lent their countenance, but which they thought proper now to withdraw from it. He should shortly have occasion to present several petitions from very populous places against the Government plan.

Mr. James Johnstone

said, that the Presbyterians had no objection to extracts from the Bible being used in preference to the book itself, provided the extracts were read in a proper place. He did not approve of discussions of this description, but he trusted that as it had been brought forward it would lead to a withdrawal of this obnoxious plan. It was perfectly clear, that it was any thing but satisfactory to the people of Ireland. The Synod of Ulster, a most intelligent body, had set their faces against it. The strongest feeling, too, against the proposed plan had manifested itself in Scotland, where several presbyteries had already met, and determined to petition the House against its adoption.

Mr. James Grattan

denied that the great body of the Presbyterians in Ireland were opposed to the new plan of education. He trusted that it would be allowed a fair trial before it should be abandoned: he should propose two years at least. The old system had been tried for fifteen years, and was not found to answer. He, therefore, considered that a good argument in favour of the adoption of another scheme. He was quite certain that they would not be able to force the Scriptures on the people of Ireland by the plan acted upon by the Kildare-place Society. The advocates of that system pretended that their only motive for opposing the new system was, that it would encourage the Roman Catholic priesthood to prevent the reading of the scriptures altogether; they accused the Roman Catholics of proselytism, whilst they fell into precisely the same error themselves. He was sorry that these discussions were so frequent; however, they were calculated to bring the cause of religion into contempt, owing to the angry feelings of those who took part in them. He had supported the new plan, because he was quite satisfied that any other was useless to promote education in Ireland.

Mr. Anthony Lefroy

was against the system proposed by the right hon. Secretary, and he was glad to say, that he was not alone in that opinion, but that he held it along with almost the whole Protestant population of Ireland. He might mention the petition which had been presented to the House from the United Synod of Ulster, a petition which he believed had passed unanimously. The objection that had been offered to the system pursued by the Kildare-street Society, viz. that the Bible was in some parts so obscure, that it ought not to be put into the hands of those who could not understand it, was not well founded, because it was left to the discretion of the master what portions were suited to the advanced state of the pupil.

Mr. Shaw

had no wish to prolong, the discussion upon this subject, but be wished to correct a few mistakes into which the hon. member for Colchester (Mr. D. W. Harvey) had fallen, he had said that there was only a sum of 15,000l. withdrawn from the Kildare-street Society. Now, the fact was, that the sum withdrawn was 25,000l. He (Mr. Shaw) did not complain of the withdrawal of that sum, for he considered that all such societies flourished more when left to private support; but what he complained of, and to which he must enter his protest, was, that Government had not merely withdrawn the grant, but had done so in order to give it to another body, and set up another system which in his opinion was not well founded. The hon. member for Tipperary (Mr. Wyse) seemed at all times ready to abuse the clergy of Ireland. Now, he (Mr. Shaw) would be bold to say, that there were not a body of men anywhere who were more anxious to promote the education of the people, and who exerted themselves more as far as their means extended. It was, no doubt, because the hon. Member was a sincere Catholic, that the hon. Member advocated the plan of Government, and it was because he was a Protestant that he opposed it. He believed that it would occasion the exclusion of the Bible.

Mr. Wyse

said, all he wished was, that every man should guide himself by his own religion.

Mr. Sheil

considered that the point at issue was reduced to this, whether there had been merely a substitution of extracts of the Scripture for the full perusal of it. When it was considered that the most unrestricted power of reading the Bible was provided upon two days in the week for the children who should be educated in the new schools, he did not understand how that point of objection could be seriously maintained.

Mr. Strickland

said, on rising to move that the petition be printed, he would take that opportunity to deny the aspersions which had been thrown upon the petitioners, on the ground that the meeting, of which they formed a part, had been called for a purpose opposite to that to which their petition was directed. The fact of the matter was, that the public who had been at first excluded from the meeting alluded to, were subsequently admitted, in consequence of a general vote to that effect, and the result was the petition before the House.

Mr. Robinson

said, he thought it would be impossible to get up any system of education which would please the two great parties in Ireland. He thought the best plan would be, when the grant was before the House, either to withhold the grant altogether, or divide it between both systems, according to their numbers or some other plan of division.

Petition to be printed.

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