HC Deb 28 March 1899 vol 69 cc649-52
MR. J. C. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

The Question that I intend to refer to is one that has caused a considerable stir in Ireland. I refer to the recent order of the Local Government Board with regard to the new rules regulating the admission of children into the Industrial Schools. The honourable Member for Mayo, in referring to this matter some years ago, said that the regulations were giving satisfaction all over Ireland to all concerned in the treatment of the poor, and especially in the treatment of the destitute. Now, without a moment's warning, the working of the Industrial Schools is to be altered, and the magistrates are to be called upon to read the law in a certain way. I say that the Executive Government is going beyond its province in asking magistrates to read an Act of Parliament in a certain way. I contend it is in the discretion of the magistrate, and such directions ought not to emanate from the Local Government Board. I make these remarks because I observe that two magistrates of Dublin have so far altered the practice regulating the admission of these poor children into these Industrial Schools, as to completely alter the reading of the law. We complain that no opportunity has been given to Irish Members to consider the alteration of the rule, and so far as we can see, it is simply an order issued by the Chief Secretary and the Local Government Board, to be acted upon all over the country. I cannot better illustrate my meaning than by quoting a letter from an Irish gentleman who is much interested in the question of these schools. He said that for over 30 years the Act had been administered in a most liberal spirit, and that good work had been done by these schools. The policy of the Government has entirely reversed that action. A Departmental Committee of the Home Office sat in 1896, and they went into the question thoroughly, and they went into the working of the English and Scotch Industrial Schools, but the Irish schools were in no way considered. No evidence was called, but apparently it would seem that the outcome of that enquiry was that this Order has been issued to the magistrates, and the whole system has been reversed. Now it is a very serious question, because if any Board does any good in Ireland at all, the right honourable Gentleman will admit that it is this Board which administers Industrial Schools. I find, with all respect to the Chief Secretary and to the Attorney-General, that this circular which has been issued by the Local Government Board is not in accordance with the Act of Parliament itself. Now up to the present the magistrates have acted upon this principle, that where children have lost one parent, or where both their parents have died, that the extreme destitution of the child was sufficient to admit that child into the schools, so as to save it from the contaminating influence of criminals. And it is a well-known fact that criminality in the juvenile population of Ireland has largely diminished in recent years, and that was greatly owing to the beneficent operation of these Industrial Schools. Now I might quote the Act of Parliament referring to this matter, and I beg to invite the Attorney-General's attention to this particular section, Section 11 of the Act of 1868. Section 13 does not help the matter very much, except that it refers to children under 13 years of age. The circular also refers to the Amending Act of 1880, Section 1, which in no way touches this question. The whole thing, in my opinion, hangs upon Section 11 of the Act of 1898, and unless that section is repealed, I do not see how these Industrial Schools can be operated in the way in which the Local Government Board desires. We don't know whether it is parsimony in dealing with the small relief given to the most deserving class in Ireland, but whatever the motive is, it is most disastrous in its operation, as we are assured by responsible authorities. All the managers of industrial schools whom we have interviewed are decidedly against it, To my mind it is Section 11 which defines the action to be taken where destitution is apparent or the want of protection by parents being dead, and entire ignorance, and because through such circumstances a child is likely to be dragged into the paths of vice and criminality, that the magistrates exercise a wise discretion in admitting the child to the school. That system has been in operation for 30 years, and it has given great satisfaction to all parties, and it is somewhat surprising that the Local Government Board should have adopted this form of procedure without consulting anybody, without consulting public opinion in any way. There is another question: a number of these schools have been erected, and cost of building and maintenance incurred; they have been erected for a certain number of children, and under this rule all this accommodation will be wasted, and the schools will be no longer required for the good and beneficent work in which they have been engaged.