HC Deb 21 May 1906 vol 157 cc1060-72

said he desired to move the Motion standing in his name, that a humble address be presented to His Majesty praying that the rules of the Intermediate Education Board for Ireland for the year 1906–7 be not sanctioned by Parliament till they were amended so as to give further facilities for the teaching of the Irish language and other subjects in Irish schools. The rules which were issued in April should have been presented to this House at least three weeks afterwards, but, although any person could purchase them in Dublin nearly three weeks ago, hon. Members in this House had not got them. That left them in a very awkward position in discussing the subject. He wished to call the attention of the Chief Secretary to the position which the Irish language occupied in the new rules of the Intermediate Education Board for Ireland, and to ask him to make such alterations as were thought essential in order to place that language on an equality with French, German, and Latin. He would first direct attention to the rule which stated that any two of the following languages might be taken—Greek, Latin, French, German or Irish. Having mentioned the number of languages which the student might take, the rule afterwards said there were three specially favoured languages, and they were Latin, French, and German. He contended that there should be no special favour shown to any one of the languages mentioned, and that the paragraph should either be taken out altogether or the Irish language added. The next rule to which he wished to draw attention was that which said that exhibitions and prizes could be obtained for the following courses, which were named, and that students must obtain honors in three subjects, two of which should be main subjects, which were also named. But there was something which struck practical educationists of today as being very peculiar, and as showing how unfitted were the present Intermediate board. Included in the main subjects for girls were geometry, trigonometry, mechanics, and chemistry. They in Ireland were becoming sufficiently prosaic to imagine that domestic economy, hygiene, and physiology were a good training for girls to enable them to take their part as wives and mothers; but the intermediate board practically said they should not take those subjects. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would see the reasonableness of the request he made when he asked him to add domestic economy and hygiene as main subjects for girls. In Rule 61 it said that no Greek and German prizes would be given to students, but there were two subjects specially selected for favour, and they were Greek and German. He claimed of the Chief Secretary, who was supposed to represent a Government which had tendencies to govern Ireland according to Irish ideas, that it would be a very good start at least to place Irish on an equality with German and Greek. He knew the right hon. Gentleman had expressed himself in sympathy with this movement. Whilst in opposition he could only give expression to that view as a sentiment, but he was now in a position to translate his ideas into acts, and he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would make a beginning to-night and grant the very modest request which he now made of him. He begged to move.

MR. HAZLETON (Galway, N.)

seconded the Motion. He desired to associate himself with the attitude his hon. friend had taken on the subject. It involved a point of real importance to Ireland, and one on which the public opinion of Ireland had been profoundly stirred, namely, the position of the Irish language in their schools, and he was sanguine that by bringing it forward now before these rules had been confirmed the time of the House would be saved and much discussion and irritation in Ireland avoided later on. Much as they would like to see Irish made compulsory in their schools, no question of compulsion was raised in this case. All that they asked was that Irish should not be penalised, but should be placed upon an equality with other languages. It was generally understood that so much had been conceded by the Board of Intermediate Education once and for all, but under these new rules the principle of equality had been unblushingly abandoned, and they were back once more to the old methods of oppression. The Board dare not remove the teaching of the Irish language altogether, but it had deliberately set itself to obstruct, discountenance, and discourage the teaching of Irish by placing it at a distinct disadvantage in comparison with other languages. He believed that some of the great English universities had entertained the idea of abandoning the serious study of Greek altogether, but the value of its knowledge to the small farmers in the West of Ireland, or to the shop assistants of intellectual Belfast must be obvious to anyone. He bitterly resented the anti-Irish policy of the Intermediate Board. In the junior, middle, and senior grades the Board laid it down as an absolute rule that if only one language other than English were learnt, that language must be either French, Latin, or German. The Tower of Babel was not built in Ireland, and there was no pressing necessity that it should be there. Dublin Castle with its forty odd boards had brought confusion enough upon them, but if the Intermediate Board thought that a knowledge of French, German, or Latin was essential for the Irish, he did not for one object. He was out of their clutches, anyhow. But he did object, and would object, to this, or any other board, attempting to strike a cowardly blow at the national language in the sacred name of education. Here was he, the representative of a constituency, three-fourths of which was Irish-speaking, and the children of his constituents were barred and banned under this rule from learning their own language unless they took, besides English, the study of French, Latin or German. In Russia that was what would be called tyranny, but in Ireland it was called education. This rule was not a survival of the Penal Code, but was made last month in Dublin, and approved and countersigned John Campbell, Earl of Aberdeen. He was not blaming the Lord-Lieutenant, or the Irish Administration. He knew they had absolutely nothing to do with this matter, but the House had it in their power to-night to remove this grievance. There was something unutterably contemptible and mean about this latest attempt to strangle the Irish language in the secondary schools. It was intolerable that a great branch of education should be at the mercy of a Board of partisans such as these gentlemen had proved themselves to be. He knew there were members on the Board in whom the Irish had confidence. The Archbishop of Dublin was a member of the Board, but he was also a member of the National Board of Education, and he was driven from it. Was he and others to be driven from this Board also? He sincerely hoped not. But he was sure that the last thing the Chief Secretary himself would desire would be the creation of anything in the nature of an educational crisis over the administration of the intermediate system to increase still further the difficulties of his present position. Nationalist Members would sincerely deplore any such eventuality, but they had a poor opinion of the right hon. Gentleman's advisers, who, on a subject about which a great mass of the Irish people felt so warmly, should have treated the Irish language in the way they had. It was the hall mark of their separate and distinct nationality, and in that fact was perhaps to be found the explanation of why it had been so much persecuted by those who would like to see Ireland reduced to the level of a glorified English shire. This provocation of public opinion in Ireland only served to strengthen their determination to stand by their own language. What Russia could not do in Poland, what Austria could not do in Hungary, England, even were it to try, would never succeed in doing in Ireland, and he therefore trusted the House to-night would amend these rules and show these anti-Irish gentlemen upon the Intermediate Board that the day when they could subordinate the duties of their office to their political venom was past and gone.

Motion made, and Question proposed— "That the Rules of the Intermediate Education Board for Ireland for the year 1906–7 be not sanctioned by Parliament till they are amended in the following particular:— Rule 34 (B), page 20, line 4, to leave out the words 'If only one language is taken it must be either Latin, French, or German '."—(Mr. Thomas O'Donnell.)


said it was only fair to the Intermediate Education Board that he should read a communication which they had addressed to him in reply to a request from him as to what they had to say with regard to these proposals. The Board said that it was impossible to state in detail the many reasons which weighed with them in making the Rules. But, speaking generally, the Board were of opinion that for intermediate students the study of French or German was of greater educational value and more likely to be of practical use in after life than was that of Irish, and they pointed out that were Rule 34 altered, as suggested, a student even in the senior grade could pass the examination generally by taking up (1) English; (2) Irish; (3) Arithmetic; (4) Experimental Science; (5) Shorthand; (6) Bookkeeping. The Board considered that this course of study would not amount to an intermediate education. The present Rules were, in the opinion of the Board, to a slight extent more favourable to Irish than those of former years. He would only add a few words in regard to this matter. The hon. Member who moved this Resolution was mistaken in supposing that he had any authority over the Intermediate Education Board. It was an independent Board, and he had no power to suggest what rules it should make. The Board made the rules for itself and stood apart from the Irish Government. This was a question for the House, because the Government could not interfere with the Board. He was willing, however, to give his own view of the subject. He felt that the considerations of which hon. Members had spoken entered into the present case. On the whole he thought it a pity that the Board had not included Irish, and if a division were called he would be inclined to vote with the hon. Member. There was no reason why Irish should not take its place among other languages; and, as to its practical value in life, certainly no language could give the student more severe marital training; it was a language far more difficult to learn than French or German, and if young people of from fourteen to eighteen years of age were Subjected to the examination, it would be well calculated to test their abilities, provided it was a test of something more than colloquial knowledge, or else a distinct advantage would be given to those who came from Irish-speaking districts, and there would be little educational result. As much freedom as possible should be given, and a free choice should be allowed among Greek, Latin, German, French, Irish, Italian, and Spanish.

MR. JAMES CAMPBELL (Dublin University)

said the House had been made acquainted with a rather interesting development arising out of a very innocent Motion. Speaking for himself, he was always glad when he found himself able to sympathise in the objects of hon. Members for Ireland below the gangway. But there was certainly an object-lesson in what had occurred to-night. There was an Intermediate Education Board in Iceland consisting of all political persuasions and political beliefs, men of the highest position in the educational world. He had never before heard in this House any suggestion that this Intermediate Education Board was animated by anything except the desire to promote intermediate education in Ireland; but the hon. Member who proposed this resolution said these rules were drawn up in a spirit of political venom. That charge had been more or less adopted by the right hon. Gentleman.




Certainly sanctioned by the attitude taken up by the right hon. Gentleman.


said he had not said a single word to associate himself in any way with it.


said all he could say was that he had heard no disclaimer from the right hon. Gentleman. On the contrary, he had sanctioned by his language and by his attitude the resolution that had been proposed, the recommendation for which was that the so-called restriction upon the teaching of Irish was due to political venom.


said the right hon. Gentleman was entirely inaccurate in attributing any such opinion to him, and after his express statement, his right hon. friend was not entitled to repeat the assertion. [Cries of "Withdraw."]


said he should not be put off in the least by these interruptions. All that he could say was that he had heard no disclaimer from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but he quite accepted his view that this Intermediate Education Board were not open to the suggestion that they were animated by political venom. But what he would ask hon. Members to bear in mind was that the boy who acquired a knowledge of the Irish language in the intermediate schools of Ireland would not be able to convert that knowledge into cash. After all, why they wanted to equip these boys in the intermediate schools was that they should be able to compete in life with Englishmen, Scotchmen, and foreigners in commerce and other pursuits. He put it to hon. Members for Ireland whether they thought they were acting wisely and in the interests of these boys. If he thought they were right he would support them all he could, for he would like to see the Irish youth holding their own all over the world. But it was because he thought they would be handicapped in the competition if they were compelled or even allowed to devote time to the study of Irish which they might otherwise devote to German or French, which in commercial life they might be able to turn into capital, that he opposed this Motion. He did not profess to know what the commercial value of Irish was, but he believed it had none. Whether that were so or not, the Intermediate Board as present constituted in Ireland had upon it leading representatives of educational opinion in Ireland of all sections and creeds, and they in their united wisdom had come to the conclusion that it was not desirable to give the prominence to Irish language which some hon. Gentlemen desired to see. He could not understand why the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had not a word to say in defence of the Intermediate Board, more particularly as the attack upon them was that they were animated by political venom. He entirely repudiated that. The members of the Board, whether they were right or wrong, were animated by the desire to do what was best in the interests of intermediate education, and, speaking for himself, he believed the Board came to a wise conclusion in preferring the study of French, German, or Latin to that of Irish, which, however interesting from a national point of view, could never be turned into cash. Most of the Members of the Board were unknown to him personally, but they had been for many years in their present position, and this was very laborious work for which no emoluments were given. It was very ungracious that it should be left to the Opposition to have to defend the Board at least from being actuated by any other motives than those of the best interests of education.

MR. BOLAND (Kerry, S.)

said the right hon. Gentleman had based his whole objection to the proposal to put Irish in its proper position on the ground that it had no cash basis. Nationalist Members did not take that view. They regarded it as a national matter, but he would like to inform the right hon. Gentleman that in Ireland Irish had a cash value. They could not take up the organ of the Gælic language without seeing advertisements for speakers of the Irish language. He knew a case of a young man in Kerry who, because of his knowledge of the Irish language, instead of receiving only 10s. a week on the railway line now got £100 a year for teaching the Irish language, and he knew of instances all over the country in which the knowledge of the Irish language had actually a cash value. But his colleagues did not act upon that ground, but upon an educational ground, and he was sure that anyone who had acquaintance with the subject would know that if they only interested boys and girls in the knowledge of the language and got them to understand it, it would lead to the acquisition of other languages. Any boy or girl who had mastered the Irish language was undoubtedly more capable of acquiring a knowledge of French or of German. He was not at all desirous of removing French or German from the curriculum. All that they said was that Irish should be put on an equality.


said the right hon. Gentleman on the front Opposition Bench had introduced a certain measure of what he might perhaps consider to be humour into this matter, but what they wanted the House to understand was that this matter involved something which the Irish people held very dear. They all hoped and believed that they had now arrived at a time in the relations between England and Ireland when the English people were anxious to show that the attempt to suppress the distinct nationality of Ireland was to be relinquished. In no possible way had the Irish national sentiment in the past been more attacked than in the efforts made to suppress the Irish language. Sometimes they were asked by their friends from Wales how it was that the national language in Wales was so widespread and in general use, whilst in Ireland the national language had been waning for many long years. The reply to their Welsh friends was that in Wales no such attempts were made to strangle the national sentiment of the people for their language as was done in Ireland. The use of Irish in Ireland had been made positively a crime in days gone by. People were taught that it was a dangerous thing in the eyes of the Government to use the native tongue, and in that way Irish largely disappeared, and what they now asked was that in the better spirit which prevailed in this country towards Ireland the ancient tongue of the land should be encouraged to be spoken by the people if the people so desired. No doubt, if the Irish people thought only of the cash value of things the country would probably be much more prosperous than it was at the present time; but, thank Heaven, they did not measure things in the past or to-day by their cash value. They had regard for sentiment, for honour, for the traditions of their country, and it was not that they desired to deprive their young people of the opportunity which the knowledge of French or German might give them, but that they were anxious that their pride and self-respect should not be offended in their youth, because the one tongue in the world which was practically forbidden them was the tongue of their forefathers. They were not seeking to impose as a necessity the cultivation of the Irish language by their people, but they were simply asking that it should be given the same privilege as any other language, and he appealed to hon. Gentlemen who were anxious to cultivate the national sentiment of the Irish people to give to them what they passionately longed for.

MR. DOLAN (Leitrim, N.)

said that the right hon. Member for the University of Dublin denied that the Intermediate Education Board for Ireland were animated by political bias. They might or might not be so animated, but they were undoubtedly animated by a desire to Anglicise Ireland. They were animated by ideas which were entirely foreign to the spirit which animated the young generation of Irishmen. They were made up very largely of a kind of individual who was neither a good Englishman nor a good Irishman, and if the House wished to study that type of individual some very interesting specimens would be found on the Opposition Benches above the gangway.


said he should perhaps tell the House what the Intermediate Board said of this rule, because it was not fair to say they were indifferent to the importance of the subject. The Board, while they were always willing to give prominence to domestic economy and hygiene in the education of girls, felt that these subjects were not suitable for the special kind of examination prescribed for "main subjects." He might perhaps take this opportunity of saying that he had some reason to complain of the right hon. Gentleman opposite for having endeavoured to tax him with a charge for which he would find absolutely no ground whatever. Nothing was further from his mind than to lower the services which the Board rendered in the public interest, and although some criticisms were made upon the Board by the proposer of the Resolution he regarded them as being in the nature of the flowers of rhetoric, which bloomed naturally n an Irish soil. He should have thought that they would have been regarded in the same manner by the right hon. Gentleman who had much more knowledge of them than he had.


said he could not imagine anything more preposterous than the programme offered to girls in preference to domestic economy, hygiene, and physiology. It was Mr. Plunkett's department that had forced this programme upon the Intermediate Board, and had saddled upon Ireland a set of laboratories in which girls were to study practical chemistry. He hoped the House would have the good sense to substitute the course suggested.


said he had not the least objection to domestic economy or hygiene, but he did suggest that it was a very inconvenient way, by a hurried debate in this House, to introduce radical changes in a programme that had been selected presumably after careful consideration by a competent tribunal. Of course if the Board were of the character suggested by some hon. Members he could have understood this House being asked at twelve o'clock at night to overrule the well-considered judgment of the Board; but he confessed he did not understand the faint praise with which the right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to sustain and defend the action of this Board and the way he had completely thrown them over. The right hon. Gentleman had not given them any reason whatever in defence of his action. He knew their conduct was to be impugned to-night, but he had not taken the trouble to read their defence.


said he had read every word he had received from the Board.


said all he had to say was that if the action of a district council were involved they would have had a much more elaborate defence, and it seemed most extraordinary that a Board on which were some of the most eminent Irishmen of all religious denominations, who had given their services unpaid for this work, should have been thus treated. It would be a poor consolation to the Board that the right hon. Gentleman, so far from saying one word in their defence or in justification of their policy, had got up and said he would content himself by reading the communication he had received from them, at the same time expressing himself in entire sympathy with a Motion made in a hostile spirit. While he had no objection to teaching Irish girls domestic economy and hygiene, he would suggest that it was rather a curious way of legislating at this hour of the night.

Resolved, That the Rules of the Intermediate Education Board for Ireland for the year 1906–7 be not sanctioned by Parliament till they are amended in the following particular:—

Rule 34 (B), page 20, line 4, leave out "If only one language is taken it must be either Latin, French, or German."

Resolved, That the Rules of the Intermediate Education Board for Ireland for the year 1906–7 be not sanctioned by Parliament till they are amended in the following particular:—

Rule 43 (iv), add "Domestic Economy, Physiology, and Hygiene" as "main subjects" for girls.

Resolved, That the Rules of the Intermediate Education Board for Ireland, for the year 1906–7 be not sanctioned by Parliament till they are amended in the following particular:—

Rule 61, page 26, line 1, at beginning, insert, "In Irish."—(Mr. Thomas O'Donnell)

And, it being after half-past Eleven of the clock on Monday, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put.

Adjourned accordingly at a quarter after Twelve o'clock.