HC Deb 12 March 1835 vol 26 cc926-9
Mr. Andrew Johnson

rose to move for returns respecting National Education (Ireland), in pursuance of an order of the 13th May, 1834; and in addition, a list of all such books as are distributed or used under the direction of the Board, with the full titles thereof; and a list of the schools in which the whole or any of such books are used as class-books; also returns of the number of Roman Catholic children, of children of the Church of England and Ireland, and of Protestant children of other denominations in each of the schools under the superintendence of the Board; and that the Commissioners state the amount and particulars of any grants made by them to schools connected with or under the superintendence of any nunnery, monastery, or other religious institutions or houses; and also of any grants to schools kept in Roman Catholic chapels, or buildings forming part thereof, or contiguous thereto, or within the precincts of the said chapels, with the places where such schools are situated. He understood that some objection was entertained against the use of the expression Roman Catholic in this Motion. It was not his wish to disparage any religious persuasion. Some peculiar term, however, must be used to designate each. No objection was made in Scotland to the use of the word Presbyterian, and he never could see any objection to the use of the terms Roman Catholic or Papist. If he heard any reasonable objection to the use of these words in the return he should not employ them.

Mr. Barron

said, he objected to the making of any such distinction, because it was contrary to the principle upon which the system of National Education introduced by the late Government had been founded. That principle was, to draw no distinction between the children on the ground of religion. In the part of Ireland with which he was most nearly connected the greatest benefits had arisen from acting upon this principle. The parents of children of different religious persuasions were thus brought together, as well as their children, and mutual friendship, forbearance, and kindness was the result. In his parish the system was found to work so well that out of the fifteen heads of Protestant families who resided there fourteen of them made application for a grant towards the erection of another school. He would be very glad to see such a spirit extending further north, and children brought up in feelings of true Christian charity and benevolence one towards the other.

Mr. Henry Maxwell

said, without the return for which his hon. Friend had moved it would be quite impossible to ascertain the number of Roman Catholics and Protestants attending each school. In his part of the country the schools were so situated that Protestant children could not attend them, because they stood either within the chapel-yard or very near to it. The schools under the Kildare-street society were quite deserted through the influence of the priests; and the new schools being in some cases within the chapel-yard, and in others very near it, the Protestant children could not attend them.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, he saw no objection to the return. He should most sincerely rejoice if the system of education, proposed with the best intentions, should prove successful. He was anxious that the fullest information as to the working of the system should be communicated, and was glad that the attention of the Member for St. Andrew's had been called to the subject. He had no doubt the system would upon inquiry recommend itself, as it had already in some instances, to its former antagonists. He did not wish to see religious distinctions drawn upon this or upon any other occasion, but as they had similar returns before there could be no objection to them now. As there was a separation between the children in religious instruction it would be easy to make out a return of the Catholic and Protestant children. He should be better pleased if the schools were not situated within churches or chapels, or near to either, but on some neutral ground. The mere location ought to present no difficulty. It would be better to abstain from discussion till such time as they had full information. The result of inquiry would show whether or not the tendency of the plan was to throw the whole education fund into the hands of one party. The subject had been at one time converted into an arena for the exhibition of party animosity, but he trusted that time had gone by. No exhibition upon any theatre would be near so interesting to him as to see all parties co—operating and going forward together with the good work.

Sir Robert Bateson

concurred in many of the observations that had been made by his right hon. Friend. in one part of his speech, however, he could not see whether he was speaking in irony or in seriousness. He agreed with his right hon. Friend that they ought to lay aside all party feelings, but there was in his speech something of taunt and irony, as if he was assuming a triumph, to which he did not consider his right hon. Friend at all entitled. He did not oppose it in a spirit of party, and one of his objections to it was, that it had a tendency to make distinctions of religion in schools. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Barron) by his allusion to the north, seemed to imply a censure on the conduct of the Kildare-street Society. Now certainly the object of that society was not the exclusion of any sect from their schools, but to bring them together as much as possible. If the present system worked so well, what objection could there be for answering any question? Why object to any? In the north of Ireland these schools most certainly did not meet with the approbation of the great mass of the people. It was said they were to be without any distinction of sects. This was not so, for Protestant parents would not send their children to these schools. His right hon. Friend said, he was happy to see so many converts to this new principle. For his part he was not one of them. His objections to it now were as strong as they were before.

Mr. Ruthven

hoped that nothing would be said or done to occasion acrimonious debates upon this subject. The object sought for by the return might be easily obtained in another way without trouble or expense. The hon. Member did not seem himself to understand the nature of his Motion, or the effect it might produce on the feelings of the Irish people.

Mr. Finch

said, that the returns had been granted in another place, therefore there could be no additional expense or trouble to have them laid on the Table of that House. With respect to the increase in the amount of the grant of the present year, it did not originate with the present Ministry, but it was to cover an increased expense incurred under the late Administration. Though he was prepared to give credit to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Rice) and to his party, he begged to say that the present Ministry could not be charged with inconsistency on account of the course they meant to pursue. If the present system worked well let it be perpetuated; but he hoped that an end would be put to the practice of disseminating sinister reports.

The returns were ordered.