§ MR. BIGGAR moved for a Return of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland showing the name and religious denomination of each Commissioner, the number of attendances at the ordinary and special meetings of the Board during the 12 months ended in March last, the dates of the ordinary and special meetings, the number of Commissioners present on each occasion, the number necessary to constitute a quorum, the names and addresses of Commissioners who had been paid personal expenses, the sum paid to each, and a copy of any minutes or regulations of the Board defining the conditions, duties, and powers of Sub-Committees.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That there be laid before this House, a Return of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, showing:—
And, Copy of any Minutes or Regulations of the Board defining the constitution, duties, and powers of Sub - Committees."—(Mr. Biggar.)
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, that, in reply to the Motion of the lion. Member for Cavan, he was always unwilling to stand in the way of any desire for information upon any public question; but, with regard to this Return, he must own that lie should be glad if the hon. Member would give some explanation of the use Jo which lie proposed to put it, or the object for which he moved it. It was a Return of such a nature that he should be unwilling, under any circumstances, to grant, unless a decided public advantage could be shown for giving it.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, the reason he asked for the Return was that he desired to ascertain to what extent these public servants performed their duties. The first part of the Motion was of a merely formal nature. He believed that gentlemen who professed the Catholic religion were, in some cases, quite as unfavourable to the work of education as non-Catholics. He wanted also to know the attendance given by each of the Commissioners, so that there might be an opportunity of seeing who was responsible for the different matters of which complaint was made. As was very well known, many of the Commissioners lived in different parts of Ireland, and he wanted to ascertain whether the entire work devolved upon a very small number, or whether the whole generally attended the meetings. He thought the document he asked for was a very reasonable one, and that it was much wanted. If they found that certain gentlemen gave no attention at all to the work of the Commission, their names ought to be removed from the list of members, and their places supplied by others who would do the work. The question of National Education was a very important one, and one in regard to which questions were constantly arising that were of interest to the constituents whom the Irish Members represented. It was most desirable, therefore, that they should 392 have the means of knowing who were responsible for the various matters which arose in connection with the work of education.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, he saw a long list of questions included in the Motion, and he thought the answer of the hon. Member for Cavan had increased his difficulty in granting the Return. The hon. Member said he wished to see who were in constant attendance at Dublin, and who were not. It was quite obvious that upon a very large Board, chosen for the purpose of representing the whole of Ireland, all the members could not live in Dublin. It was very undesirable that they should do so; and the object of the hon. Member appeared to be to ascertain which of the members were not the ordinary attendants of the meetings of the Board. It was only to be presumed that among the members who were not ordinarily in attendance would be the great majority of members who lived away from Dublin at a very considerable distance, and who could only come up at very great inconvenience, but who reserved to themselves the right of coming up on any occasion, when a great and important work of administration, carried out by the Board, had to be discussed. He could quite see that Irish Education might be very well managed by two or three paid Commissioners, all of them quartered in Dublin; but that was not the system on which it was managed, and he thought the present system was a better one. It was managed by a special representative Body selected from the whole of Ireland, and to pick out those who lived at a distance, and who could only attend on great occasions, and to hold them up in some sense to public reprobation would, he thought, be unfair. He would tell the hon. Member what would be the effect of granting this Return. The Return asked for the names and addresses of Commissioners, if any, who have been paid personal expenses, and the sum so paid to each. Now, who were those members who had their personal expenses paid to them? They were those members who lived at a distance from Dublin, who, when they came up, were paid their fares and their residential expenses during the period they were in Dublin; and those gentlemen would find themselves in the disagreeable predicament of being held up, 393 on the one hand, as having attended much more seldom than those gentlemen who habitually resided in Dublin; and of having, on the other hand, received the public money, while those who were resident in Dublin had received none. Under those circumstances, he certainly could not agree to Sub-head 5 of the Return, because that was merely another form, and he thought an unpleasant form, of specifying the names of those gentlemen who lived at a distance from Dublin, and who obtained payment of their expenses, without any explanation of the circumstances which induced them to ask for an allowance. Nor could he agree to the religious denomination of each member being attached to the name of each Commissioner. Upon that point, he must enter an absolute protest on the part of the Government. To the best of his knowledge, during the time he had been connected with the Government, they had never given a Return of that nature. The utmost they had ever done was to give the aggregate number of members of each religious denomination in any special Body connected with the Public Service. He would not say that it had never been done by others; but, certainly, it had not been done in any Department with which he had been connected. He should be glad to give the names of the Commissioners, and the aggregate number of members of each religious denomination, but nothing further. Then, again, with regard to the number of attendances, he should be willing to give that, if the hon. Member would withdraw the Motion at the present moment, and allow him slightly to alter it, or if there was an understanding that a note might be subjoined, which should specify what members of the Board were habitually resident in Dublin, and what members lived at a distance from Dublin. If that were done, the objections he entertained to the Return would be substantially removed; and although the Commissioners of National Education would not, he thought, approve of the Return being given in any shape, because it was most unusual to ask for any Return of that sort, still if hon. Members opposite pressed it in the shape he had outlined, he would agree to give it.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he quite understood that the Commissioners of Na- 394 tional Education would make a strong objection to this Return in its present shape, or, indeed, in any shape which human ingenuity could devise. The Commissioners of National Education, of all public Bodies in Ireland, were the most nervous in regard to the publicity of their transactions. He could, therefore, quite understand why the Government should be unwilling to give a Return which would supply any data to the House; but would they give the dates of the ordinary meetings, and the Commissioners present on each occasion? Would they give Sub-head 3?
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, he was quite willing to give the first four sub-heads of the Return and a copy of the Minutes, with the exception that, in the 1st subhead, he could not attach the religious denominations of the Commissioners.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that, in that case, he should advise his hon. Friend (Mr. Biggar) to accept the Return in an amended shape; but he must express a hope that, whenever it was necessary for the House to have a Return, the unwillingness of the Department to give it and have criticism applied, would not be given as a reason for not granting the Return.
§ MR. HEALY
suggested that the Return should be granted now as it stood, and that then the Speaker should amend it by leaving out "religious denomination" inline 1, and the whole of Subhead 5. He thought that would meet the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He would move to leave out "religious denomination" in Sub-head 1.
§ Amendment proposed, in sub-head (1.) to leave out the words "and religious denomination."—(Mr. Healy.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'and religious denomination' stand part of the Question."
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
said, he could not understand this difficulty about the religious denomination. Why should the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland object to give the religious denomination of the Commissioners? He (Colonel King-Harman) did not suppose those Commissioners were ashamed of their religion, and he did not see why their religion should not be given in a public Return. As to the allegation that they kept their pro- 395 ceedings secret, he knew nothing about that; but he had invariably found them to be a body of men who were always perfectly willing to face the light of day, and he could not see why the right hon. Gentleman should object to giving this Return in every respect. It was ridiculous to object to give their religion, as if any gentleman in Ireland was ashamed of his religion, or as if there was anything wrong in their religion, or anything to be concealed. There was nothing of the kind, and he hoped, that if the Return was granted, it would be given in its entirety, or not at all.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he could not agree altogether with what had fallen from his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel King-Harman). Not in the least did he suppose that the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland were ashamed of their religion; but he objected altogether to granting a Return of this kind with regard to such a Body as had been assailed on the present occasion. The Commissioners of National Education in Ireland had had a long history, and in that long history they had not received very fair measure at the hands of, at one time, one Party in the State, and of another Party at another time. So far as his judgment went, they had done a great deal of most excellent work in Ireland, and that under great difficulties. They had been assailed at one time by persons who took an extremely strong view—the high Protestant view; and at another time they had been assailed by those who took a very strong and extreme Roman Catholic view; but through all this they had pursued their course with firmness and fairness and impartiality, and they had come out of all the scandalous accusations made against them very creditably. Everyone remembered the famous O'Keefe case, which came before this House on a good many occasions; and he thought that this Return was obviously intended for the purpose of founding attacks hereafter, and if the House granted it they would open the door to unpleasant controversies. The Education Question in Ireland was long the burning question of the day, and there had been debates in this House upon University Education, Intermediate Education, and Primary Education. The unfortunate circumstances connected with 396 the case of Father O'Keefe were over and over again brought before the House, and no result whatever came of it, except a great deal of heart-burning on both sides of the House. Who brought that matter forward, and for what purpose? It was brought forward because accusations were made against the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland respecting their action in that case; but that was only part of the question, because Intermediate Education in Ireland at that time had hardly shown its head. University Education was taken up and fought out on the question of religious or denominational or united education. The Ministry were actually defeated, and their fall was ultimately brought about by their defeat over that question. The question of University Education in Ireland was fortunately set at rest by the late Ministry, at all events for some time, and the Royal University of Ireland was proceeding with a considerable amount of success. He was aware that there were some outside questions with regard to the Queen's Colleges; but he must say that the Motion for this Return, as far as he could see, could have no other purpose than to afford material for founding some kind of attack upon the Commissioners of National Education, and for re-opening the old controversies. As the Chief Secretary for Ireland had said, the Commissioners would not at all approve of this Return, but not because they had anything to conceal; and he greatly regretted that the Motion had been made.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Plunket) was interesting, as his speeches always were; but he (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) could not see the relevancy of his observations to the question before the House. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had said there had been a great deal of progress in regard to education in Ireland, and in that he quite agreed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. There were only two points between himself and his hon. Friend (Mr. Biggar) and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Trevelyan). He thought Sub-head 5 was certainly too inquisitorial, and he was glad that his hon. Friend had seen his way to omitting that portion of the Return. The second point of difference was with regard to the 1st sub-head. The hon. 397 and gallant Member for the County of Dublin (Colonel King-Harman), who certainly could not be supposed to be predisposed in favour of any Motion made by the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), was actually more in agreement with his hon. Friend than; the Chief Secretary for Ireland; and he wished to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the religion of every one of these Commissioners was notorious in Ireland. Whatever else might be known about a man in Ireland, his religious persuasion was known, and, consequently, the right hon. Gentleman would not be making any statement of anything that was not notorious in Ireland. He was sorry to see that the right hon. Gentleman had brought into this matter many ideas which were just in regard to England, but inappropriate in regard to Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman was a friend of religious toleration, and thought, as he (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) himself thought, that the absence of questions as to a man's religious persuasion in a public office was a necessary corollary to religious and political toleration. But the right hon. Gentleman knew that the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland were selected not only for their fitness for the position, but also because of their religious persuasion. They were a Body consisting of the representatives of the different religious persuasions, as well as of every other interest in Ireland, and it was as members of certain religious persuasions that a number of them were entitled to hold the position of Education Commissioners. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman, in giving this portion of the Return, would not be stating anything which was not already notorious to the people of Ireland; but the object of the Return, he assumed, was to bring before the House in an official form the religious constitution of the Board. The Return obtained by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton), giving, in an official form and with the sanction of the Government, the religious persuasion of the Irish magistrates, had done a great deal to enlighten public opinion on that question. If the right hon. Gentleman would give the religious persuasion only in the aggregate, he did not think his hon. Friend (Mr. Biggar) would meet him with any obstinate opposition; but, as religion in the aggregate meant the re- 398 ligion of the individuals, the right hon. Gentleman would simply be fighting a shadow, and he thought that if the hon. Member withdrew the whole of Subhead 5, the right hon. Gentleman might agree to give the rest of the Return in its present form.
§ MR. DAWSON
said, he could not help feeling, considering the position of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Plunket) with regard to educational matters in Ireland, to what a lamentable position he had fallen. This opposition was very much of the type of resistance which would be offered to light being thrown on University Education in Ireland, and on the vast resources and emoluments of the Board of Trinity College, Dublin, and the slight benefit that accrued to the nation which provided those emoluments, and placed at its disposal thousands of acres of Irish land.
§ MR. T. D. SULLIVAN
said, that the objection of the Government to giving this Return was a most extraordinary objection. Why should the Return be refused on the ground the Government had advanced? If the Return, when granted, gave grounds for accusations, why should they not be made? If it afforded no such grounds, the accusations could not be made; but it was most extraordinary to refuse a Return, because, if the Return was granted, certain accusations might be founded upon it. Such an objection came with especially bad grace from hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House. What were hon. Gentlemen doing here, night after night, but seeking for information—trying to draw information from the Government, not on historical facts, or matters that could be embodied in a Return of this kind, but on telegrams only a few minutes old? They wanted information, and they were a most inquisitorial Party themselves; and if they refused information on so simple a matter as this relating to the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, why did they seek for all that information they looked for day after day and night after night? Was it not for the purpose of founding accusations? Yet the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland could coolly stand by and seriously urge the Government and the House not to give this information, because accusations might be founded upon it. Who were the accusing angels of the Government? They 399 were the people who were in continual resistance to the Government; and the more grounds of accusation they could find in the newspapers, and from any other source, the better they were pleased; and yet other lion. Members were to be refused useful information because they might found accusations upon it. That objection was of no avail or weight whatever. If there was anything in the complaint it was only right that the Return should be granted, in order that that complaint might be substantiated. As to the religious objection, he agreed with what had fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Dublin County (Colonel King-Harman). Who was it that was ashamed to have his religion published in public Returns or in any other way? The Catholic members of the Commission were not—were the Protestant? If they were not, what, then, became of the objection raised against the Return? He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland would reconsider his decision, and would give fuller information than that which he had promised this evening.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, he thoroughly fell in with the Amendment moved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy), to leave out the words "and religious denomination" from Sub-head (1). He did not place any substantial value on the words, and should be quite content to leave them out. He also fully agreed with the suggestion that Sub-head (5)—The names and addresses of Commissioners (if any) who have been paid personal expenses, and the sum so paid to each,should be left out. Probably it would be a mean thing to make inquiries as to the travelling expenses of the Commissioners. They were fully entitled to those expenses, seeing that they got nothing for their services. If he had thought that any imputation would have been cast upon these gentlemen in consequence, he should not have put Subhead (5) in the Return.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Words left out accordingly.
At the end of Sub-head (1.) to add "and the aggregate number of each religious denomination in the Commission."—(Mr. Biggar.)
§ Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out Sub-head (5.)—(Mr. Biggar.)
§ Question "That Sub-head (5.) stand part of the Question," put and negatived.
Sub-head omitted accordingly.
Ordered, That there be laid before this house "a Return of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, showing—
And, Copy of any Minutes or Regulations of the Board defining the constitution, duties, and powers of Sub-Committees."—(Mr. Biggar.)