HC Deb 20 May 1895 vol 33 cc1673-84

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.) rose to call attention to the case of the Limerick Diocesan Schools, and to move:— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to withhold her consent from so much of Paragraph 6 of Scheme 90, framed by the Educational Endowments (Ireland) Commissioners, relating to the Limerick Diocesan Schools Endowments, which provides for the conveyance and release by the Commissioners of all their estate and interest in the lands, buildings, and premises described in the First Schedule thereto. Part IV., subject is therein to the Rev. James Fitzgerald Gregg on the notice and payments therein set forth by him to the Commissioners in that behalf to be given and made; and to disapprove of that part if said Scheme which makes the default by the said Rev. James Fitzgerald Gregg in giving said notice or making said payments within certain times therein set forth, a condition precedent to the Commissioners putting up for sale by public auction and selling to the best advantage all their estate and interest in the said premises subject as aforesaid, and conveying same to the purchaser thereof; and to disapprove of any part of the said Scheme which, if retained therein, will operate to compel or allow the Commissioners to take any course with regard lo the said premises other than to put up for sale and sell to the best advantage all their estate and interest therein, and convey same subject as aforesaid to the purchaser thereof. He began by congratulating the Tory party on the serried aspect of their benches. Whenever a motion of this kind was put down in relation to Scotland, nearly the whole House cleared out and a few Scotch Members were permitted to monopolise the business; but the moment a matter regarding Ireland was put down, every English gentleman who knew nothing whatever about the subject was prepared to give a conscientious vote upon it. The facts relating to this motion might be put in a small compass, and he would say nothing about it, had it not been found in official documents. They owed to the late Lord R. Churchill the passing of the Endowments Act, 1885, and such reforms as had been carried out affecting the old endowed Schools of their country. In 1833 and 1837 the three schools for the diocese of Limerick had fallen into ruin, and the Protestants of Ireland, being small in numbers, but having complete control in the country, built the schools out of their own pockets. There was an application to the rates for the purpose, and at an expenditure of £l,672 15s. 4d. the School was erected. Of that £1,672 upwards of £1,640—one might say the whole of it with the exception of about £30—was paid for by the citizens of Limerick out of their rates. Now there were 3,000 Protestants in Limerick, and 33,000 Catholics, so that it might be said that the Protestants compelled the Catholics to build the School for them, and they built it. Then Lord Randolph Churchill's enquiry came on, and it transpired that after the passing of the Church Act of 1869, the reverend Gentleman, Dr. Hall, the master who then apparently was in charge of the School, went through the operation of commuting and compounding, for a life interest, and he left the city of Limerick. In 1874, the School was obtained by the Rev. James Fitzgerald Gregg by deed apparently, in consideration of the sum of £20, notwithstanding that the School had cost the ratepayers of the city £1,640. He obtained it on a tenancy from year to year at a rent of £20 per annum. But this gentleman refused to pay anybody any rent; and he set the Commissioners at defiance, and when Lord Randolph Churchill's Inquiry came on, the noble Lord put a number of pungent questions, which seemed to show that the school was, or had been, used for proselytising purposes. [Cries of "No, no!'' from the Opposition Benches.] Was that a challenge? [Cries of "Yes!"] Then he would only refer the hon. Gentleman who cried "No, no!" to the statements given in the course of Lord Randolph Churchill's cross-examination—questions 1148 to 11627. If the noble Lord was mistaken in his view, he (Mr. Healy) could only follow humbly in the mistake of the noble Lord. Well, matters went on until this Act of Parliament was passed, and in 1891–2 Lord Justice Fitzgibbon and Mr. Justice O'Brien inquired into the funds and endowments of the school, and Mr. Justice O'Brien described as discreditable the course by which Dr. Gregg had obtained the school. He himself should not have used that language if he had not the authority of that learned and eminent Judge for doing so. The Rev. James Fitzgerald Gregg appealed to the Privy Council of Ireland, a whip was made, the Tory Party rallied and mustered at the call of their friends, and 10 gentlemen of Protestant persuasion and two of Catholic persuasion came together, and the august assembly perpetrated this job. The job was this, that the scheme of Lord Justice FitzGibbon, a Conservative Judge, and that of Mr. Justice O'Brien, who certainly was not a Home Rule Judge, should be amended in this regard, that instead of allowing the Rev. James Fitzgerald Gregg to continue in his tenancy at £20 a year, forsooth, the whole school and its premises of an acre and a-half in extent was to be sold together, not for the money it cost the ratepayers, £1,600, but for the sum of £800 or thereby. Now the Tory Party were rather opposed to leasehold enfranchisement, but leasehold enfranchisement suggested the idea that the person to be enfranchised must at any rate have a tenure in the place. He must have either a freehold or a lease for years. But the proposal of the Privy Council of Dublin was that a gentleman who was only a tenant from year to year was to have a present for half what it cost the ratepayers, of an acre and a-half of land. He should like to see the Tory Party affirming a proposition of that kind. What he proposed was this, that the Rev. James Fitzgerald Gregg should not be presented with this property on those terms. The Tory Party were hardly in favour of fixity of tenure. The money for these premises had been found out of the rates. They belonged to the ratepayers, and what he said was that the premises should be put up to public competition, and that the man who bids highest for them should get them. In fact, he was the champion of freedom of contract, and he asked the House to say that no cause had been shown why the decision of the two judges who had inquired into the matter should be overruled at a scratch meeting of the Privy Council, whipped up by the Rev. James Fitzgerald Gregg, and the ratepayers deprived of their property by means of jobbery of this kind. He therefore asked the House to affirm his Resolution. Mr. Gregg had only 300 Protestant parishioners out of the 33,000 inhabitants of Limerick. The question was whether a job of this kind was to be perpetrated by the Privy Council against the wishes of the people who had paid for the school. He begged to move the Motion standing in his name.

MR. DIAMOND (Monaghan, N.)

seconded the Motion.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

agreed with the hon. Member for North Louth in all that he had said in praise of the Endowed School Commission and the late Lord R. Churchill in connection with it. The findings of that commission had only been challenged twice. That spoke volumes for the character of the work which it had done. The next question to be decided was this, whether Mr. Gregg was to have the right to the pre-emption of these premises on the payment of the sum of £834 according to the decision of the Privy Council or whether the premises and the land were to be put up for public auction. The House ought to know the history of these schools in order to be able to form a just opinion. The diocesan schools were founded in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, but the school now under consideration was actually built in 1837. The hon. and learned Member had stated that it was built out of the rates of the city of Limerick.


And out of a presentment by the Grand Jury of the county.


said, that it was wholly built out of a presentment made by the Grand Jury of the county of Limerick. The City of Limerick never paid a sixpence, towards the erection of this school, and he did not think the hon. Member had a right to say that the Protestant minority in Limerick was so contemptible as a rate-paying community.


£1,640 was presented by the grand jury for the county and the county of the City of Limerick.


said, he did not say it was wholly presented by the county, but, whether they took the county or the city, the Protestant rate-paying community was by no means so contemptible a proportion of the population as the hon. Member inferred. A very considerable moiety of what was paid would come out of the pockets of the Protestant population. This school ceased to exist as a diocesan school on the Disestablishment of the Irish Church. Dr. Hall, to whom the hon. Member had referred, died on the premises, and a difficulty a rose from the fact that his widow remained on the premises. The Education Commissioners could not get her out, and by the payment to the widow Canon Gregg secured possession of the premises. The hon. Member inferred that Dr. Gregg obtained possession of the premises in an underhand way, and it was only fair to say that Lord Justice FitzGibbon entirely acquitted Canon Gregg of any such conduct. The, case came before the Endowed Schools Commissioners, and an order was signed which gave Canon Gregg the right of pre-emption. It was quite true that that order was withdrawn, and the Commissioners made another order that the premises should be put up to public auction. He was not going to discuss the constitution of the Privy Council. It was the body to whom persons aggrieved by the order had a right to appeal, and Canon Gregg appealed. The Committee of the Privy-Council considered this matter, and came to the conclusion that the scheme should be sent back to the Commissioners with a declaration that the right of preemption in fee simple should be given to Cannon Gregg at a price to be ascertained by valuation, and if the premises were not so sold that they should be put up to public auction. The finding of the Privy Council went to the Commission and the Commission accordingly gave Canon Gregg the right of pre-emption. But they did not fixed the price. The valuer of the Endowed Schools Commission went down and valued the premises at £834. Not content with that the Government sent down the Chief Officer of the Government Court of Valuation Dublin, and he practically came to the same finding; and the Privy Council acted upon the concurrent valuations. Thus it was beyond question that they did not make a present of the premises. Then it was said that ever since Canon Gregg had got possession of the school it had been devoted to Protestant proselytism. Of the children who attended the school 75 per cent. were the children of Protestants and 25 per cent. were the children of mixed marriages; and Canon Gregg had never allowed any child to attend without the full permission of the legal guardian. Therefore the charge of proselytism could not arise. Personally he agreed that many of these old Endownments had required overhauling, and he rejoiced that many were being usefully employed than before. In the county of Limerick the Commissioners had handed over the whole of one Endownment to the Roman Catholic party, and he did not object to that, recognising the claim of the majority of the population and rejoicing in the fact that the Endownment could be more efficiently utilised in that way. Here was the last Endownment which it was proposed to leave to the Protestants, who as ratepayers had contributed their share to the endownment of the school; and this was a contemptible attempt to grab the last Endownment and to take it away from those who were using it for the advantage of the Protestant population, but without exclusion or any proselytising aims. The Catholics would have been well advised to leave this Endownment in the hands of the Protestants. He knew Canon Gregg, and was perfectly certain that he was incapable of taking possession of these premises in an unjustifiable manner and that he had not used the school for proselytising purposes. It was quite true the hon. Member who moved this Motion had supported him on a former occasion, but that was when an attempt was made to change the constitution of a governing body so as to give one party an unfair share in the management. That case was not on all fours with, this and the hon. Member could on account of that case ask his support for this Motion which he hoped the House would reject. The various Protestant denominations in Limerick were strongly opposed to interference with the scheme. It received the favourable consideration of the Education Commissioners in 1885. The first scheme was in favour of the premises being purchased by the present occupying tenant, Dr. Gregg, and the proposal that he should be allowed to purchase had been sanctioned by the Irish Privy Council, and he objected to the hon. Member for Louth saying the Irish Privy Council had been whipped up to perpetuate a job. What was the job? It was that the man who took the school at a time when it was simply tumbling down, who had kept it in repair all this time, and had paid the rent, and whose proceedings had been approved by the Education Commissioners, should now be put out of the premises. The primary cause of the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Louth was Dr. O'Dwyer, Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick. That Bishop was opposed to allowing the Protestants to purchase the school. He had said that he regretted that this school, the last of the three Protestant schools in Limerick, should be allowed to remain "as a standing insult to Catholics," simply because it was a Protestant school. There was no foundation for the charge of proselytising, and it had been wholly disproved. There had been many cases in which the children of mixed marriages had been admitted into the school when their legal guardian had brought them to the school for the purposes of education; but so far from proselytising taking place, it was rather the other way, it was on the part of the Catholics. Bishop O'Dwyer said he would give money out of his own pocket to buy out the schools. Although there could be no doubt that £131 was the proper value of these premises, two independent valuers had valued them at £850. He did not quarrel with the Catholic Bishop of Limerick. He was entitled to his own opinion, but was that House to help him? If the premises were put up to auction, the bidding would run up so high by the Bishop that Dr. Gregg would be unable to keep up with it. Hon. Members professed to be in favour f religious equality. But why should the result of many years' deliberation be upset at the last moment? Lord Justice Neish, after carefully considering the matter, consented to the scheme, and Lord Justice Fitzgibbon, who had been most seriously attacked, had stated that there was not the least foundation for the charge of proselytism. He submitted that it would be most disastrous if, by assenting to the Motion, the House destroyed the last Protestant school in Limerick.

MR. W. E. MACARTNEY (Antrim S.)

pointed out that no allegation had been made by the hon. Member for Louth against the fitness of the education imparted at the school. For twenty years Canon. Gregg had carried on the education of a large number of poor children. The Commission upon which Lord R. Churchill sat bore testimony to the worth of the education given, and everyone since, who had investigated the education carried on, as well as reports presented to Parliament, had testified to the character of the education given. Was there anything in the condition of the school that violated the principle of the Act of 1885. The hon. Member for Louth had not made any assertion of the kind. The hon. Member for Louth said that Canon Gregg never paid any rent and declined to enter into possession. In October, 1894, he had previously addressed a letter to the Commission asking them if they would make him tenant and offering to pay a certain rent. They were unable to make him legal tenant owing to the position in which the occupation of the premises had left them. The moment that Canon Gregg got into possession he made a further offer to the Commission. They were still unable to make any legal settlement with him, but they knew he was in possession. He carried on the education of his pupils there with their full knowledge, and as soon as they were able to give him any locus standi or quasi legal position they did so. In all the transactions between Canon Gregg and the Commissioners it was stated that he never did anything discreditable. What evidence was there that Canon Gregg did anything underhanded or that was not absolutely open before the world? What would have happened if Canon Gregg had not taken the steps he did? The Grand Jury of the City of Limerick and the Grand Jury of the County had made presentments for the purposes of the school, but beyond this they took no steps in the matter. The old educational establishment would have been left derelict, and the intentions of Parliament to benefit the City of Limerick would have been frustrated, but for the action of Canon Gregg. He must say, looking to the moral side of the question and to the action of Canon Gregg, that it would be unjust of that House now to attempt to disturb the settlement arrived at after four long and very full investigations. He must touch one side of the question which really explained the attack on this scheme. Bishop O'Dwyer, like, he suppose, all prelates of the Roman Catholic Church—and he did not blame him for this—had a strong opinion on the question of the issue of mixed marriages, and he stated in his evidence before the Endowed School Commissioners that this school was an eye-sore to him because children of mixed marriages were received there to be educated. Bishop O'Dwyer stated that he had been unable to submit a clear case of proselytism of Catholic children belonging to Catholic parents; but added that Canon Gregg was fishing in troubled waters, meaning the question of the issue of mixed marriages. While he admitted that the Bishop was entitled to take great interest in these marriages, and might suppose it to be his duty and right to do all he could to secure that the children of these mixed marriages should be brought up in the faith of the Roman Catholic Church, the Bishop could not, on the other hand, dispute the right of Canon Gregg or any other clergyman of the Irish Church or any other Protestant denomination in Ireland to take an equal interest in the subject, and he had utterly failed to show that anything took place in Canon Gregg's school of an underhand nature, or that he ever received a child born of a mixed marriage in any other than a legal manner. What was proved before the Commission was that Roman Catholic parents in mixed marriages were in the habit of leaving children to be educated as Protestants. The whole issue was this; Were they on account of the strong opinion which Bishop O'Dwyer had on this question, to interfere with a scheme which had been three times before the Privy Council, which had received the sanction of Lord Justice Fitzgibbon, to interfere also with the beneficial education of 80 or 90 children in Limerick, and deprive the minority there, whose rights ought to be listened to and protected in that House, of the charity destined for their special benefit.


observed that a very few remarks from him would suffice to place the point before the House in the light it presented itself at least to him. This was a case in which the two Commissioners specially qualified to do so, came to a certain conclusion. There had been an appeal to the Privy Council, and now there was another appeal from the Privy Council to that House. That was the appeal they had then to decide. He should have thought that hon. Members opposite would have been anxious to show that they were able in this matter, at all events, to discharge from their minds all those elements of prejudice and passion which, unfortunately, played a frequent part in Irish discussions affecting education, in order to show the peculiar capacity and fitness of the House to decide troubled Irish issues. The present issue was not as to what the view of the Catholic Church in Ireland was about mixed marriages, nor as to whether this reverend Gentleman was conducting a good school or not. The case having come before the House in the way he had described, what they had to consider was simply whether the two Commissioners were more likely to be right; or the Privy Council. It would be very unbecoming in him to make remarks disparaging to the Privy Council in Ireland, but, at the same time, from his observations of the operation of that body in its executive functions, it did not seem to him to be a body to whom Parliament ought to confide questions of this delicacy. There, being a confusion, which all publicists had deprecated for the last 150 years, in Western Europe between executive and judicial functions, in the attribution of these duties to the Privy Council he himself was not inclined to allow their decision to overrule the finding of two such men as Lord Justice Fitzgibbon and Mr. Justice O'Brien. It was no use holding the Commission up to the admiration of the House, and then asking the House to overrule their deliberate opinion. He hoped, therefore, that the House would agree with the Motion.

MR. DAVID PLUNKET (Dublin University)

said, the Chief Secretary had rested his case in support of the Motion on the ground that there had been an appeal from persons fully qualified, to a tribunal which, whatever else might be said in its favour, was not specially qualified for the decision of such delicate questions as these Irish education questions always were. But why was the tribunal unfitted to hear this appeal? Because they were the judges of the land. And who were the persons from whom the appeal was to be taken? Two judges of the land. He had never heard such a foolish excuse—if he might be permitted to say so—as that advanced by the right hon. Gentleman.


What I say is that those two judges, Lord Justice Fitzgibbon and Mr. Justice O'Brien, were doing special work which they were called upon to do; and that they had decided this case, into which they had special opportunities for inquiry.


said, that every word of the evidence was also heard before the Privy Council; and therefore, the second reason of the right hon. Gentleman was feebler than the first. He would point out further, that when this case was first tried by Lord Justice Fitzgibbon, in company with Mr. Nash, who was Lord Chancellor of Ireland, it was decided to give the pre-emption to Canon Gregg. When Lord Justice Fitzgibbon afterwards found himself in company with Mr. Justice O'Brien, he stated he still retained his original view, and only yielded because he could not get his colleague to assent to the course that had first been decided upon, and when the matter came before the Privy Council they decided to uphold the original view of Lord Justice Fitzgibbon, from which Lord Justice Fitzgibbon had never departed. There was, therefore, no good reason for the course the Government proposed to adopt. The real reason for the Motion was to stamp out the best remaining Protestant school in Limerick.

The House divided:—Ayes, 92; Noes, 87.—(Division List No. 92.)