HC Deb 21 January 1897 vol 45 cc257-68

moved at the end of the Question, to add the words— And we humbly represent to Your Majesty that the Catholics of Ireland have suffered under an intolerable grievance in respect of University Education; that the existence of this grievance has been recognised by successive Governments: and that it is the duty of the Government immediately to propose legislation with a view to placing Irish Catholics on a footing of equality with their fellow countrymen in all matters concerned with University Education. He said that it was with grave regret and deep disappointment that he had read the Speech from the Throne, and found in it no mention of any intention on the part of the Government to take some steps to remedy the injustice which the Irish Roman Catholics had, and were suffering, in the matter of University Education. So long as that injustice remained, was it to be expected that the Roman Catholic population of Ireland could be content to tolerate a grievance so serious against their spiritual, as well as material, interests? He thought he might take it for granted that all, at any rate a very large majority, of those who understood the University system of Ireland would agree with him that a serious grievance did exist. And by no one had this grievance been more clearly shown, nor the intellectual and material disadvantages resulting from the present condition of things been more clearly laid down, than by the First Lord of the Treasury. He did not suppose it was generally known in this country that large numbers of Irishmen were at present precluded from the enjoyment of university education, honours, and emoluments on account of their conscientious religious opinions. What did they claim? Nothing more than that some arrangement should be come to so as to put the Roman Catholics on a footing of equality with their fellow-countrymen. He hoped that the House would not consider that an unreasonable request, and that the present system, which was distinctly disadvantageous to those who hold these conscientious objections, would be amended, and these disadvantages removed, so that all Irishmen, no matter what their creed might be, would stand on a footing of equality with the rest of their fellow-countrymen—so far, at any rate, as university education, honours, and emoluments were concerned. They had for many years been claiming justice on the point, but, alas! nothing had been done by the responsible Ministers of the Crown. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, as far back as July 1885, speaking as one of Her Majesty's Ministers in this House, stated— If it be our lot to be in authority next year, I hope that we shall be able to advance some proposal which will be a satisfactory settlement of this most important question. But not one single step had been taken to settle this most important question. The Leader of the House, in the year 1889, when questioned on the subject whether his attention had been drawn to certain resolutions passed by the Roman Catholic Bishops of Ireland, said— The resolutions deal with many questions, and over the whole field of education in Ireland. Without giving specific answers to the various points alluded to in them, I may say that some of them, notably higher education, have long been under the consideration of the Government, and in respect to them we hope to be able to make proposals to the House. And again, the right hon. Gentleman, in his speech on the Appropriation Bill, was still more explicit in recognising our grievances— I repeat in the House what I have said outside the House, that in my opinion something ought to be done to give higher University education to the Roman Catholics of Ireland. … The experiment of undenominational higher education has now been tried sufficiently long to make it. I am afraid, perfectly clear that nothing Parliament has hitherto done to promote that object will really meet the wants and wishes of the Roman Catholic population of that country. This being so, we have no alternative but to try and devise some scheme by which the wants of the Catholic population shall be met. He trusted, therefore, he might appeal with confidence to the right hon. Gentleman that he would devise a scheme to remedy a state of things in Ireland which he had himself described as "not creditable," and such as he cannot look upon with equanimity. He thought he was right when he said that the Chief Secretary for Ireland had stated that he had been compelled to pass over Roman Catholics in Ireland when making appointments to which he would have wished to have appointed it Roman Catholic, owing to their want of university education. Most of the endeavours to solve the question had, he was afraid, been failures, which had brought more or less discredit on those who had attempted its solution. He did not know, if he was to try and solve it, that he should be more fortunate than those who had preceded him. He was not in a position to pledge the Government in this matter; but he repeated that, so far as he was personally concerned, he should be glad to try and make a solution of the problem, and it would be a great pride to him if, before he ceased to hold the office he now held, he could feel that even some step had been taken towards the solution of a problem which he was certain was intimately bound up with the future prosperity of Ireland. No doubt they had two Universities in Ireland—Trinity College, Dublin, and Queen's College, Belfast. But they could not claim that the work done by the other Queen's Colleges was worthy of much consideration. The Roman Catholic Colleges had been very successful in certain classes of examinations, but the conditions under which they existed limited their labours to a very small field. In the Universities of Dublin, Trinity College, and Queen's College, Belfast, there were, he thought, some 1,500 or 1,600 students, and out of that number there were only about 50 or 60 Roman Catholics. In such a state of affairs was it to be wondered at that Roman Catholics with a University education were not numerous? He thought he might safely say that those who had the welfare of Ireland at heart must have it brought home to them, in the strongest manner, the almost impossibility of raising a nation to that standard and tone they all desired, when three-fourths of its inhabitants were debarred from the direct or indirect advantages of the full training of those intellectual abilities which, he thought, would be acknowledged by all are possessed in no small degree by Irishmen. During this year some 8,000 students had presented themselves for the Intermediate Examination, and by far the largest proportion of that number were Roman Catholics. The House must not take him as suggesting that all of that large number would take advantage of University education; but he thought they had a right to expect that it large proportion would, and that number would increase from year to year; and also that a university education was the natural completion of such studies. It has been said by Archbishop Walsh—and there was no greater authority in Ireland on educational matters— That national education was the foundation, intermediate education was the walls, and university education the roof of the structure upon which the hopes, the ambitions, and prosperity of a nation must exist. He asked why, in all honesty and fair play, why that; structure should be complete with regard to the minority, and that important structure should be roofless in the case of the majority. It must be plain to all that it was impossible for Irishmen to participate in a system of university education which, in the words of the Leader of the House, was—"if not by its constitution, at all events by its construction, a Protestant institution." The whole current of thoughts and training in that institution were antagonistic to the current of thoughts and training of a very large majority of the Irish people, and also in antagonism with their undoubted conscientious principles. Had not, the majority of Irishmen a right—an undoubted right—to claim that boon—the greatest of all boons—the right of university education? He could not believe that a great and rich nation like England, whose boast was that she gives equal treatment to all, would refuse that fair treatment they have a right to demand and receive. He did not desire to occupy time by reading extracts from speeches, but he hoped that the House would bear with him when he read to them a short extract from an article written by the Under Secretary to the Local Government Board, in the Fortnightly Review, in February 1892— So far as university education is concerned, the Catholic grievance is too plain to be ignored. So long as the atmosphere is what it is in the University of Dublin and in Trinity College—i.e., so long as there is a Protestant chapel and service, a Protestant divinity school, and a teaching staff almost entirely Protestant, it is impossible to say that Catholics ought to be content. Nor can it be fairly urged that the Royal University—a mere examining board—adequately supplies the place of a teaching university. I say the grievance here is undoubted. It ought to be dealt with in a liberal and fair spirit. On this branch of the question I go quite as far as Mr. Balfour went in his speech (in 1889). It was now a quarter of a century since this question was made a Cabinet question, but, alas! not a single step had been taken to improve or amend the conditions of affairs complained of during all those years. And he could hardly imagine that a demand so in harmony with the opinions expressed by so many Members of the Government could be or would be refused or postponed. Let it not be said that Ireland could not get either justice or fair play from the English Government without agitation—and serious agitation; but he would ask the House to meet this serious question in that just, and generous spirit which it deserved. He again appealed to the Leader of the House, in the hope that he would not allow another Session of Parliament to pass without coming to a definite conclusion on the subject.


in seconding the Amendment, said Irishmen had had plenty of sympathetic declarations from British Statesmen on both sides that Ireland was entitled to a Catholic University, but to-day they were no nearer the point than they were a quarter of a century ago when these declarations were first made. Four-fifths of the population in Ireland were Catholics, and they were absolutely deprived of the unique advantages which a University education gave. He regretted that Mr. Sexton, who had brought this question into prominence, was no longer in the House. It was due entirely to his insistence that the First Lord of the Treasury made the memorable speech on this subject at Partick in 1889. In the four endowed colleges in Ireland—Trinity College and the three Queen's Colleges—there were only 250 Catholic students. The reason was simply that the system of University education which it was attempted to force on the people was contrary to their religious ideas and convictions, and that they believed it to be intrinsically bad in faith and morals. He knew of no other country where a sacrifice so keenly felt would be so unhesitatingly made for the sake of conscience. The principle of Catholic University education had been admitted by the leaders of the Irish Parliament, and, therefore, if the Act of Union had not been passed, the question would long ago have been settled. Dr. Walsh, Archbishop of Dublin, had stated that the Catholic demand was for equality of endowments and status. The Irish Catholic Bishops, assembled in conference in October last, had made a strong declaration on this subject, which showed the intensity of their feeling. They stated that by no one had the admitted grievance of the Irish Catholics in the matter of University education, and the intellectual and material impoverishment resulting therefrom been put with greater force than by the First Lord of the Treasury in his remarkable speech at Partick. He now came to a declaration of the Irish Catholic Bishops, which, if it had been uttered by a Nationalist Member on a public platform, would be described as an appeal to the passions. The prelates supported what had been said again and again by Irish Members in the House, that nothing was done for Ireland by Parliament unless the claim for justice was emphasised by violence. Again and again had the Irish Members urged upon Government after Government what they thought ought to be done for their country, but almost every Government turned a deaf ear to them unless they were terrorised to do justice to Ireland. Violence and excess obtain a ready recognition and lead to the redress of grievances, said the Bishops. The constitutionally expressed desires of the Irish people through Parliamentary elections, and the action of their Members of Parliament, count unfortunately for little. The prelates then went on to say that for 40 years they had been agitating this grievance of university education; and that at any time during all those years the overwhelming majority of their countrymen were in favour of their claim; and they pointed out, in conclusion, that this prolonged neglect to settle the question was a powerful argument in favour of Home Rule. The Chief Secretary had said that he intended to kill Home Rule by kindness. He would tell the right hon. Gentleman that Home Rule would not be killed by soft words. Kindness would, of course, be appreciated; but after all the kindness of the Government Irish people would be the better Home Rulers still. He had extracted from "Hansard" no fewer than 12 declarations made by responsible Statesmen during the last 25 years in favour of the creation of an Irish Catholic University. The first was Lord Mayo, who was Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1867. Then came Sir Stafford North-cote, who was Leader of the House in 1875. Earlier than that, in 1873, university education in Ireland occupied a large portion of the time of the Whig Government, which, unfortunately, collapsed. In 1885 the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who occupied that year the same office in a Conservative Government, declared that the question of Irish University Education would have the most serious attention. It had been considered for 11 years without any effect. Four years later, in 1895, the First Lord of the Treasury—then Chief Secretary for Ireland—made a most friendly declaration. In reply to a question put to him as to whether he considered the resolutions of the Catholic Bishops of Ireland in regard to education, the right hon. Gentleman said that some of the questions dealt with by the prelates—notably higher education—had long been under the consideration of the Government, and in respect to them they hoped to make proposals to the House. Eight years had passed since then, and still there were no proposals. This was a subject on which there was no distinction of creed or party. The inaugural address of the Philosophic Society was upon this subject, and two distinguished Irish scholars—Lord Justice Fitzgibbon, who was an eminent authority, and who would not speak on any subject which savoured of politics; and Judge Webb, who had been a fellow of Trinity College, and was a very prominent politician on the Tory side—expressed themselves in favour of Catholic Universities chartered and endowed. A very distinguished member of the governing body of the University had said to him recently that all Members would sign in favour of such a proposal. Of course no series of quotations would be complete without one from the hon. Member for South Tyrone. The hon. Member had said that amongst the first things the Government would have to consider would be the question of Catholic University Education in Ireland, and he said it was sure to come because the First Lord had promised it years ago. Then the present Lord Lieutenant of Ireland had said that the Government would have to deal with Catholic Education. How could the right hon. Gentleman opposite separate private from public matters? No one had a greater admiration for the right hon. Gentleman than he, but it would certainly militate very much against the high esteem in which he was held if he went hack upon these declarations. It was a grievous injustice. He must refer to what the right hon. Gentleman had said himself. He was not going to "Hansardise" him, but to Times him. [Laughter.] As to dealing with University Education in Ireland, the right hon. Gentleman said he was not the only offender. He had done as others had done before him, and he mentioned the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Mayo, Sir S. Northcote, and Mr. Gladstone. Then he came to his apologia, and said sectarian education in Ireland could not be escaped. Then the right hon. Gentleman spoke in a tone of great propriety about the religious system in Ireland, even in the so-called undenominational colleges. The Catholic students in the College had, it was true, religious instruction from their own teachers, and could attend Mass and the other ordinances of the Catholic faith at their own churches. Yet this system was called undenominational. The right hon. Gentleman wished the Irish people to be educated as they themselves desired, and said that to substitute an undenominational system for a denominational system had utterly failed, and whatever our own thoughts and feelings were as to the merits of the two systems we were bound to accept the overwhelming mass of opinion in Ireland. Then he spoke of Queen's College, Belfast, a most successful institution, and said that only eleven of the students were Catholics, and mentioned an interesting fact that when the Presidentship fell vacant he recommended the appointment of a Presbyterian Minister. Then he said, "Look at your denominational education." In 1881, when the Provostship of Trinity College, Dublin, fell vacant, as far as merit was concerned, Dr. Ingram should have been appointed, who was undoubtedly the favourite, but Dr. Jellett was chosen. The only bar to Dr. Ingram's appointment was that he was not a cleric of Trinity College. The College was an Anglican institution—he liked it all the more for it—and the intensity of the religious character of this "undenominational" institution was shown by the fact that since the disestablishment of the Irish Church nearly all the most distinguished men of the College had been in orders. In the same speech from which he had quoted the right hon. Gentleman said that University education was a gift. He objected to that phrase, and it was probably the only phrase in the whole of the speech to which he had any objection. The Irish people did not want a gift. They wanted their money. Restitution was no gift; even a philosopher could understand that. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman ought to be widely circulated, so that everyone who wished to understand the question could see what the denial of University education meant to the Catholics. The right hon. Gentleman wound up his speech with a very beautiful peroration, but the next morning there was a furious article in The Times, telling him amongst other things that the subject had passed for a time out of the sphere of practical politics. No wonder that John Bright, before his perversion, called The Times "the devil's agent upon earth." He asked the right hon. Gentleman, did he now, as Leader of the House, and as First Lord of the Treasury, stand to his guns and declare that the sentiments he held in 1889 were those he had to-day? If so, and if he did not make this question an imperative matter of policy upon which he would stand or fall, it was useless to have such an opinion upon such matters. The right hon. Gentleman was with him on this question, and why did he not make his friends be with him, or infuse earnestness into the question? He said that Ireland demanded compensation in this matter for the wrongs of the past. This denial to the Catholics of University education was simply a relict of the penal laws. They could not, of course, remedy the deeds of the past, but they could make some atonement by acting justly, kindly and generously with the people of the present day. The conduct of the English Government with reference to Irish Catholic education was almost as base as the destruction of Irish industries one after another in the 18th century—almost as base in its way as the deliberate promotion in Ireland of infectious diseases in order to destroy the nation.

MR. W. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

said he desired to take the earliest opportunity possible to protest against the step which was advocated in the Amendment before the House. He implored the First Lord of the Treasury to consider carefully the effect of such a Resolution as this on the Party of which he was an ornament and on the country. He was in that House in 1873, when Mr. Gladstone, the most powerful Minister the country had seen, brought forward the subject of University education in Ireland, and he remembered—and he was glad to remember—that he had a considerable share in bringing about the defeat of the right hon. Gentleman's measure on that occasion, which, after he had tried to conciliate the Roman Catholic Hierarchy, failed utterly in that object, and brought about the downfall of the Government. When he had the honour to be a student at Trinity College, he had as fellow-students two grandsons of Daniel O'Connell, and they never complained that the University of Dublin interfered with their religious sentiments. It was well known in the country that all the emoluments of the University, from the highest to the lowest, were open to Roman Catholics, and that there was no attempt ever made to interfere with the religious sentiments of any student who entered that University. He would ask Her Majesty's Government to pause before they gave their sanction to a policy which would probably disintegrate their Party. That Party felt strongly on the Protestant question. He denied that there was an intolerable grievance such as that spoken of that night, or that the great bulk of the Catholic population of Ireland was a population which was likely to take advantage of a Roman Catholic University. It was with great pain that he rose upon that occasion, but he thought that the character of the country as a Protestant nation was at stake. He fully concurred in the opinion that had been expressed in that House by Mr. Disraeli, that the people of Great Britain were a Protestant people, and objected to any endowment of Roman Catholic establishments by the State. He implored the Government not to be led away by the hope of conciliating the Irish Party into making any proposal for the State endowment of a Roman Catholic university.


moved the Adjournment of the Debate.

Motion agreed to;

Debate was adjourned till to-morrow.