HL Deb 24 June 1842 vol 64 cc547-50
The Earl of Clancarty:

My Lords, I have two petitions to present to your Lordships upon the subject of Education in Ireland, similar in substance and in prayer to those which have, in such great numbers, been laid upon the Table of the House since the commencement of the present Session of Parliament, that is to say, they are condemnatory of the present system of national education, and in favour of those schools which have been established by the Church Education Society in that country. My Lords, the petitions I have the honour of laying before your Lordships are, one from the Protestant inhabitants of the town of Ballinasloe, the other is from the committee of the Clonfert Diocesan Church Education Society. To the latter of these petitions, my Lords, is affixed the signature of the excellent and respectable Prelate who presides over that diocese, I mean the Lord Bishop of Killaloe. And as they are each of them subscribed by persons the sincerity of whose interest in promoting the scriptural education of the Irish poor, is further evinced by their active individual exertions and pecuniary contributions in that behalf. I have, therefore, the greater pleasure in recommending their prayer to your Lordships' favourable Consideration, and shall avail myself of the present occasion to say a few words expressive of my perfect concurrence in the opinions and wishes of the petitioners upon the very important subject on which they have addressed your Lordships. I agree, my Lords, with the petitioners in their condemnation of the present system of national education, because it appears to me to be founded upon a principle of neutrality upon the subject of religion that must of necessity tend rather to impair than to elevate the standard of religious belief in Ireland—because it practically excludes the clergy of the Established Church from their due share in directing and superintending the education provided by the State for the people, among whom they are professionally placed,—and because, as regards the great aim and intention of the institution itself—I mean the effecting an united education of the Irish people of all religious persuasions in the same schools— the experiment has signally failed. And this, my Lords, is a fact which, considering the acknowledged talents of the members of the Board of Education—considering the great zeal with which, as it appears from their reports which have from time to time been laid upon the Table of the House, they have given themselves to the discharge of their duties, and the large sums of public money that have been annually placed at their disposal, more, in fact, than Parliament ever voted in previous years for the purposes of education in Ireland—considering also the length of time, now above ten years, that the system has been in operation with the unvarying and undivided support of successive Governments—I say, my Lords, that considering all these favourable circumstances, the fact that the experiment has, nevertheless, failed of accomplishing the object—the benevolent intentions of the noble Lord with whom it is supposed to have originated should be taken as conclusive against its being longer persevered in—conclusive of its unsuitableness to the circumstances and character of the people for whom it was designed—and, perhaps, also conclusive of the impossibility of framing any system likely to be successful for the united education of a people so divided in religious belief as the Irish; but, certainly, of the impracticability of a system such as the present, which, for the reasons set forth by these petitioners, neither has nor can have the support and co-operation of the hierarchy and clergy of the Established Church. Agreeing, -as I do, my Lords, with the petitioners in the approbation they express of the schools in connection with the Church Education Society, I cordially join them in their prayer— That your Lordships would devise such means as to your Lordships' wisdom shall seem fit, for the encouragement and as- sistance of schools in connection with that society. Allow me to observe, my Lords, that the principle upon which the education given in these schools is based, is one which ought never to have been lost sight of in framing a system of national education for any part of the United Kingdom, I mean the principle of combining the dissemination of religious knowledge, scriptural and doctrinal, with the best secular instruction suitable to the wants and circumstances of the population. Such, my Lords, has been the object of the Church Education Society in the system of instruction they have provided for the Irish poor. An object in which, to the extent that the limited funds of a society—dependant solely upon voluntary contributions—have enabled them to go, in founding schools, they have been eminently successful. And it is a circumstance well deserving of the favourable consideration of your Lordships, that these schools —though hitherto unsupported by any public grant of money, and though practically opposed by the Government of the country—have nevertheless gone on year after year increasing in number and efficiency; that they have given satisfaction to the Protestants of the parishes in which they have been instituted (a fact that is abundantly attested by the petitions that have been presented upon the subject); that they are, as was Stated to your Lordships on last evening by a most rev. Prelate, largely resorted to by the Roman Catholic population; and that, although under the immediate superintendence and control of the parochial clergy of the Established Church, the schools in connection with this society do in fact realise the design of united education of the Irish people, Protestant and Roman Catholic, in the same schools, far more effectually than do the schools under the Marlborough Street board, which were founded for that express purpose. It is not my intention, my Lords, at the present time, to enter at large into the question of Irish education. It is a subject which I trust will, ere long, be brought regularly under your Lordships' consideration, by those with whom the duty and responsibility properly rests of advising your Lordships upon a matter of such moment to the welfare and happiness of that part of the United Kingdom. I much regret that her Majesty's Ministers did not deem it a subject of sufficient im- portance to engage their earliest attention after their accession to office; but I do not agree with those who infer from the answers given by the noble Duke in this House, and by my noble Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in the other House of Parliament, to questions put to them upon the subject, that it is the intention of her Majesty's Government to leave the question of education in its present very unsatisfactory state. I rather place reliance upon the recorded sentiments of the leading Members of the present Administration, while they yet occupied the Opposition benches in the two Houses of Parliament— that being now in power they will give their serious attention to the subject with a view to making such alterations as are called for by justice, sound policy, and a consideration of the future welfare and character of the Irish people. And I feel assured that her Majesty's Government, will act in this matter regardless of all party interests, but mindful of the support and encouragement due to the religion of the State, and at the same time with that consideration which is justly due to the interests of those who conscientiously dissent from the doctrines of the Established Church.

Petition laid on the Table.

House adjourned.