HC Deb 14 July 1884 vol 290 cc927-9

asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, If he can state what has been the result of the correspondence between the Irish Local Government Board and the Newtownards Board of Guardians with respect to the religious instruction of Catholic children who are inmates of the Newtownards Workhouse; whether it is the fact that there is no Catholic guardian, either ex-officio or elected, on the Newtownards Board; whether, in consequence of a resolution adopted by the Board on the 5th of April last, the Catholic children are sent daily into the schoolyard, where they spend the time in idleness, while the rest of the children are receiving religious instruction; whether the schoolmaster and schoolmistress superintend the morning and night prayers of the Protestant children, give them religious instruction every day, and direct their religious exercises on Sundays, while there is no instructor appointed for the Catholic children, and if these latter every night are put outside the dormitory while the rest of the children are engaged in prayer; whether the Presbyterian chaplain is allowed to interrupt the secular business of the school for the purpose of religious instruction, whereby an hour of secular instruction is lost to the Catholic children; whether it has been the practice of the guardians to send Catholic orphans into the employment of persons of other religious creeds, and that numerous cases of proselytism have resulted; whether the salary of the Catholic chaplain is much less than that of either of the other chaplains; whether the guardians have refused to furnish requisites for Catholic religious worship in the workhouse; and, whether the Local Government Board will use their power to equalise the salaries of the chaplains, and take measures to secure due decency of Catholic worship, and such religious instruction and protection of conscience for Catholic children as are extended to children of other denominations?


, in reply, said, the Board of Guardians had declined to make any additional arrangements for the religious instruction of Roman Catholic children in the workhouse. They stated the Roman Catholic chaplain was afforded the same facilities as the chaplains of other persuasions; that the number of Roman Catholic children is very small; and that some few years ago the chaplain's salary was increased, partly because he was required to attend to religious instruction. Under these circumstances, there were no grounds for further correspondence with the Guardians on this matter. There was no Catholic Guardian on the Board; no Roman Catholic had offered himself for re-election for some years past. The resolution referred to was that if the Roman Catholic chaplain did not feel it necessary to be present during the half-hour for religious instruction the children of that persuasion should not be required to be present. It was not the case that there was a distinction made in regard to religious instruction of the children either on week-days or Sunday. The schoolmistress and master did nothing but read a portion of Scripture daily under the rules of the National Board without note or comment. With regard to the alleged interruption of secular instruction by the visits of the Presbyterian chaplain, he attended for an hour once a-fortuight, and this was compensated for by an additional hour's secular instruction in the evening. He had been furnished with a list of the Roman Catholic children sent to the employment of persons of other religious creeds since 1871. There were eight cases in all. The facts did not appear to warrant the statement as to alleged cases of proselytizing. The Board of Guardians said that in a population in which the large majority of employers of labour were Protestants they could not maintain healthy young persons in the workhouse simply because masters could not be found of their own religious persuasion; but they invariably obtained from these masters promises to send them regularly to Sunday school or places of worship. This was a matter in which the Local Government Board had no power to control the Guardians, even although they might consider the action of the Guardians as not in all cases judicious. The salary of the Catholic chaplain was less than the salaries of the other chaplains; but the number of inmates he attended was also very much less, and much less than the difference between their respective salaries in proportion. There appeared to be a dispute of long standing as to the supply of requisites for Catholic worship. So long ago as 1859 the then Poor Law Commissioners issued a sealed order on the subject; but the Guardians refused to comply with it, and on application to the Court of Queen's Bench a mandamus was obtained. The Local Government Board did not consider it necessary to equalize the salaries of the chaplains.