HL Deb 12 March 1832 vol 11 cc89-91
The Archbishop of Armagh

said, he rose for the purpose of presenting to their Lordships three Petitions against the proposed system of National Education in Ireland. The first was signed by 6,900 Irish Protestants, of all religious denominations, including one Archbishop, two Bishops, and many dignitaries and highly respectable clergymen of the Established Church. The second was from the clergymen and laymen of the county and city of Waterford, and was signed by the Bishop and Dean of Waterford. The third was from the inhabitants of the parish of Boviva, in the county of Londonderry. These petitions, which, he considered, deserved the serious attention of their Lordships, in addition to those already laid on their Table, would serve to convey the sentiments which were entertained, not only by Protestants of every class, but by members of the Established Church, in regard to the new plan of national education, so far as its principle had been announced, and was understood in Ireland. He had no desire to renew the lengthened discussion which took place on a former evening, when petitions of the same import were presented by a noble Lord. He must, however, beg leave to make one or two observations calculated to remove any erroneous impression which might have arisen from the part he took in that debate, with reference to what had been adduced from the reports of former Commissions, and mainly relied on as a precedent. He wished to observe, that it had not hitherto been found practicable to act upon those reports, and that two of his Majesty's Commissioners formally entered their protest against the report of 1826, which was signed by the other three, and in which an attempt similar to that now proposed was recommended. He must also again bring to their Lordships' recollection, that in submitting a selection from the Scriptures as a book to be used in the united schools, the late Archbishop of Dublin, in the name of his Episcopal brethren, expressly declared, that they did not consider that any portion of the Scriptures ought to be used to the exclusion of the Scriptures themselves; but that if any book of the kind were adopted in the common schools, the book submitted, as far as it then went, was, perhaps, as little objectionable as any other. It was well known that the clergy of the Established Church did not object to the use of approved extracts from Scripture in the religious edu- cation of youth. It was their daily practice to make use of such extracts; nor do the petitioners object to them, if they were acknowledged as extracts from Scripture, and as resting on no other authority. But the clergy could not, without the concession of a Protestant principle, subscribe to any system of national religious education in which the right of reading the Scriptures should be either avowedly or impliedly denied, or even held in doubt. To Protestants of every class the Bible was the sole rule of faith; it was the principle which united the petitioners, differing, as they otherwise did, on many points, and they could not, consistently with that principle, send children four or five days in the week to schools in which the right of reading the Bible was controverted, or not acted upon. The right of every man to his Bible was the asserted right of Protestants; but, on the proposed plan, the right was suspended or taken away, and the Bible was virtually proclaimed to be a proscribed book, in connivance with, or in submission to, a dogma of the church of Rome, which was the fundamental point of the controversy between that and the Established Church. It was with a view to the preservation of this leading principle, and not to the utility of reading in schools every page and every chapter of the Bible, or to the unlawfulness of extracts and summaries, that he had said that the Roman Catholics were consistent in their demands: and therefore, it became the Protestants to be so too. If it were objected that his own name was not to be found among the signatures to the first petition which he had presented, he would cordially avow to their Lordships what he had submitted to the petitioners themselves, namely, that, although he agreed with them in substance, and in the objects of their petition, yet, there were expressions in it, which, he thought, required modification, and which, if interpreted, according to the letter, would, perhaps, lead to conclusions which they did not mean to profess.

Petitions laid on the Table.

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