HL Deb 27 June 1876 vol 230 cc489-99

in rising to move for Correspondence connected with the Art Institutions of Dublin, said: My Lords, the Papers for which I move, and which I trust my noble Friend, the Lord President, will not refuse, relate to a question which has produced—and in my judgment has inevitably produced—a good deal of annoyance and irritation in Ireland. Until these Papers are before your Lordships I do not propose to deal with the question at any length: but it is necessary that I should very briefly inform the House of the circumstances in which it has originated. The position of the Royal Irish Academy, as a scientific and literary institution, is known to many of your Lordships. Some of you are members of it, and to others its well established reputation must be familiar. It was founded about the year 1785 by a voluntary association of gentlemen, very eminent for their social rank and intellectual culture, under the presidency of the Earl of Charlemont. In 1786, it obtained a Royal Charter, which, in the recital, after speaking of the ancient renown of Ireland for the pursuit of learning, declared the will of the Sovereign to be that the Academy should be established for the cultivation of "science, polite literature, and antiquarian research," and to this end it was endowed with various privileges and a modest grant of money which has since been increased, from time to time, until it is now £2,000 a-year—still a very moderate sum in comparison with the revenues of kindred institutions, but utilized to the utmost and made productive of most valuable results. From the date of the Charter down to the present hour, the Academy has laboured unceasingly and with signal success in carrying out the objects which were set before it. It has taken a very high place amongst the learned societies of the world, and is recognized and respected by them all. Its transactions are regarded with universal interest and attention: and the most distinguished men in Europe look upon admission to its membership as an honour. For Ireland, it fulfils the functions which belong to the Royal Society in England, and is beyond comparison the national institution of which her people have most reason to be proud. In the highest walks of science it has achieved great things, and the names of such men as M'Cullagh and Hamilton and Lloyd and Andrews have, from generation to generation, shed lustre on it for nearly 100 years. It has united the departments of polite literature and antiquities, and in them, also, has done noble service. It has preserved numbers of ancient manuscripts of entirely inestimable value for historical and philological purposes. It has formed a museum, unique and unequalled, containing, as has been declared by a Select Committee of the other House of Parliament, the richest and most important collection of Celtic antiquities in any nation. It has made and is making precious contributions to archæology—Irish and foreign—through the fruitful labours of men like Petrie, and Graves, and O'Curry, and Todd and Ferguson. In all its departments, it is as active and efficient as at any period of its history, and your Lordships will not wonder that, with such antecedents and such results, it commands a fond appreciation and a justifiable pride by the people for whom it has laboured so worthily and so long. They are content with it. They wish no change in it; and they fear any novel experiments which may result in its injury. Two proposals have recently been made with respect to it, though not, I believe, for the first time. It has been suggested, that the Royal Irish Academy should be amalgamated with the Royal Dublin Society, and the official person, Mr. Donnelly, in whose letter that proposal was communicated as having the approval of Lord Sand on, adds to it another—that the amalgamation should go further, and connect the Royal Irish Academy and the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland. This is the first proposal; and the second, which has, I hear, been partially carried into effect, is this—that the control of the grant to the Academy should be taken from the Irish Government, which has heretofore administered it, and committed to the Department of Science and Art at South Kensington. To both of these propositions the Royal Irish Academy has offered a prompt and peremptory, and, in my opinion, a becoming resistance. I desire to speak of the Royal Dublin Society with the truest respect. It is an old Irish institution—older in duration than the Royal Irish Academy—and within its proper sphere it has done infinite service to the country. But its sphere is wholly different from that of the Academy. It was created and is maintained to promote the industries of Ireland, manufacturing and agricultural, and it has been true to its trust and has promoted them faithfully and well. And so has the Royal Agricultural Society. It aims to improve the cultivation of the soil and amend the breed of cattle, and I have no doubt it has been greatly serviceable in these respects. But, surely there is a grotesque unfitness for amalgamation between such a body and the Academy—between those who pursue abstract science, in its loftiest regions, and polite letters and archæology, with purposes purely historical and literary, and those who devote themselves altogether, however meritoriously, to the development of the nation's material wealth and productive industry. They cherish aims wholly distinct, and move in planes wholly different, and I do not think that your Lordships will be surprised to find the members of the Academy repudiating the proposed connection as calculated to compromise their position—to destroy the préstigethey have won by the toils and triumphs of a century—and, instead of improving either of the amalgamated bodies, to breed confusion and complication from their ill-judged alliance; and diminish the value of both by putting them on lines of action for which they were not designed, and subjecting them to a mixed management to which they are unsuited. So much for the first proposal; and for the second, it is, I believe, quite as distasteful to the Academy. Heretofore, the Irish Government has been accountable for the sums voted by Parliament, and has discharged its functions with perfect propriety and complete satisfaction at once to the Treasury and to the Academy. Why should there be any change? No one has asked for it. No one desires it. It is justified by no public necessity. It promises no public advantage. The Academy is not disposed to submit to be subordinated to a Department at South Kensington which is not homogeneous with it, which is not animated by its spirit or engaged in its pursuits, which may be and is extremely valuable in many ways to England, but was not established, and is not qualified, to assume the control of Irish institutions. The Academy, at all events, declines to acknowledge its superiority or submit to its centralizing control—believing that the Irish Government, whilst it acts in Ireland as it ought to do, under the influence of Irish opinion and with a single regard to Irish interests, is far more likely to consult carefully and well the wants and wishes of the Academy, than any body of officials resident in England and having ample employment in the discharge of their proper duties, without meddling in matters which do not concern them and which they do not understand. My Lords, on both these points the Academy has spoken with no uncertain sound. At a meeting of the body on the 29th May it was resolved— That the Academy approves of the action taken by the Council in declining to entertain the proposed scheme of amalgamation. That resolution was proposed by my friend Dr. Russell, the President of Maynooth College, who came to the meeting to deny that the Commission of 1868, of which he was a member, had given any countenance to the project of amalgamation. It was seconded by my noble and gallant Friend opposite (Lord Gough), and it could not have been presented, under more influential auspices. The resolution of the Academy as to the second proposal was, if possible, more decided and emphatic. The Council had reported that, in their opinion,— acquiescence in the transfer of the Vote from the Royal Irish Academy to the Science and Art Department would be attended with consequences fatal to the independence, and highly detrimental to the usefulness of the Academy. And the meeting resolved, on the motion of a very eminent Fellow of Trinity College, which was seconded by Master Pigott— That the Academy protests against the transfer from the Irish Government of the charge of the Academy's Parliamentary grant, and declares its determination to forego all claim on the bounty of Parliament rather than apply to the Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education for any issue of its grant. That, my Lords, is a strong resolution, and indicates how earnest is the feeling which has been evoked amongst the intellectual classes of Ireland by the proposed changes. I do most sincerely trust that the adoption of an alteration so serious may not be forced on the Academy:—andI have moved in this matter, merely of my own accord, having a natural interest in it as myself a member of the body, that I might contribute, if possible, to avert what would be, in my judgment, for many reasons, a national calamity. I have asked for the Papers very much with the hope of fixing the attention of the noble Duke upon the subject of them, and with the full assurance from my knowledge of my noble Friend that if he will personally consider it—if he will look at it with his own eyes and decide according to his own judgment—what is at once right and kindly will be done—natural and honourable susceptibilities will be respected—the public Bodies to which I have adverted will be kept in their proper courses and made to pursue, with independence, their peculiar ends, and justice will be done to an institution which, in its scientific and literary action, has deserved well of Ireland, the empire and the world.

Moved, That there be laid before the House—

Copies of all public official correspondence, commencing 8th February 1876, between the Irish Government, the Treasury, the Science and Art Department, the Royal Dublin Society, and the Royal Irish Academy on the subject of the proposed establishment of a Science and Art Museum in Dublin."—(The Lord O'Hagan.)

said, he was grateful to his noble and learned Friend for giving him an opportunity of endeavouring, if possible, to allay and put an end to any feelings of annoyance and irritation which were said to prevail in Ireland on this subject. Nothing could be further from the wishes or intentions of the Government than to say or do anything that would cause the slightest irritation to any of the learned and scientific bodies in Ireland, and nothing that they had done, he would fain hope, could produce such consequences. The history and position of the Royal Irish Academy were well known; while the marvellous collection of antiquities it possessed—the most remarkable, he believed, in the world, with, perhaps, the exception of the collection at Copenhagen—and also the manner in which the articles were kept by that society, would call forth the highest praise from those who took an interest in such matters. He found that Sir W. Wilde, in his evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons, stated that— up to the meeting in March last every article in the Museum, now about 12,000, had been catalogued, with the exception of some coins; and that if the Museum were removed to-morrow there would not be 30 articles to number or register. With regard to the Correspondence now moved for, he might have declined to produce it on the ground that it was not complete, and that the negotiations were still pending; but he was unwilling to do so, because it might possibly suggest that there was something to keep back. At the same time he preferred to give the Correspondence in an amended form, and one which, he thought, would supply all the information desired by his noble and learned Friend. It would, he thought, show that there had been some misapprehension as to the course the Government had taken in the matter. What had really occurred was this. Representations had been made to successive Governments with a view to concentrate and develop the various scientific institutions which exist in Dublin; and when his right hon. Friend now at the head of the Government previously held a similar position the Government proposed to create a separate Department of Science and Art for Ireland. Accordingly, a Commission, consisting largely of noblemen and gentlemen connected with that country, was ap- pointed to carry that proposal out. The Commission was composed of the Marquess of Kildare, Dr. Russell, President of Maynooth; the Rev. Samuel Haughton, of Trinity College, Dublin; Mr. G. A. Hamilton, the then Secretary to the Treasury, who was thoroughly Irish in all his views; Colonel Laffan, of the Royal Engineers; and others. The Commission was thoroughly Irish, and understood what was required for Ireland. The Commissioners were appointed for the purpose of considering how the different institutions in Dublin could best be developed, and how a separate Department of Science and Art for Ireland was to be constituted. But they very shortly came to the conclusion that it would not be to the interest of Ireland that there should be a separate Department of Science and Art for Ireland, and that it would prevent Irish students coming to this country to participate, which they now did, in the grants for Science and Art, and to compete as they did in many instances successfully, with their English fellow-students. The Secretary of the Commission was therefore directed to write the following letter to the Lord President:— The Minute states that 'Her Majesty's Government has decided to constitute a separate Department of Science and Art for Ireland analogous in its constitution to the existing Science and Art Department in London for the United Kingdom,' and also 'to frame a plan for the formation of a Department for Ireland, the permanent head of which shall be a secretary and director resident in Dublin, with a sufficient staff, who will report direct to the head of Education Department.' Is the Commission thereby precluded from considering the question of the desirabiltty of having or not having an entirely separate Department for Ireland? Well, having obtained permission to consider this question, they gave up the idea of a separate Department for Ireland. In the conclusion of their Report the Commission regretted their inability to carry out the Minute of the 22nd of May, 1868, in its integrity, by framing a separate Department for Ireland analogous in its constitution to the existing Science and Art Department, as mature consideration had convinced them that the institution of a separate Department would be detrimental to the interests of Science and Art in Ireland. They said they were of opinion that all the advantages to be obtained by the Minute of the 22nd of May might be practically secured by the arrangements indicated in one of the recommendations which they made—to some of which he would call attention. No action was taken at the time on that Report, and when Her Majesty's late Government retired from office, as far as he was aware no action had been taken upon it. But during the last Session of Parliament the matter was taken up in the other House by two hon. Members, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer undertook that the matter should receive the most earnest attention of Her Majesty's Government during the autumn of last year. Accordingly during last autumn his noble Friend the Vice President of the Council on Education and Mr. Smith, the Secretary to the Treasury, went over to Dublin and put themselves in communication with the Chief Secretary. They considered most minutely what arrangements could be made; and after considerable care and thought, in which deliberation he also, as head of the Council on Education, naturally took part, they communicated with the Lord Lieutenant; and the result was that a proposal was made by Her Majesty's Government and embodied in a Letter, which his noble Friend the Vice President signed and which was sent to the Department in Dublin. The second paragraph of that Letter stated that from representations made to the Government as to the general wishes of the country, from the recommendations of the Commission, and from the evidence given before that Commission it appeared that a consolidation of the various Societies in Dublin had become essential to further progress. The Government proposed to contribute, he thought, from £80,000 to £100,000 to establish one large Museum in Dublin. His noble and learned Friend opposite (Lord O'Hagan) at the commencement of his remarks complained that the view of Her Majesty's Government was that there should be an amalgamation of these Societies. He (the Duke of Richmond) should like it to be thoroughly understood that the Government had proposed no such thing. He thought that misapprehension arose from a letter to which he would refer. After the Government made a proposal to establish a Museum in Dublin and to combine all these Societies, a deputation from the Royal Dublin Society came to London. He (the Duke of Richmond) was not able to have an interview with the deputation, but his noble Friend the Vice President received them; and, after his noble Friend received them, some of the members of the body had an interview with the gentleman who was at the head of the Scientific Department at South Kensington. That gentleman wrote to Dr. Steele a letter which was a private or semi-official letter rather than a strictly official document. But the letter contained these words— After meeting the deputation from the Royal Dublin Society last Wednesday, I submitted the following Memorandum to Lord Sandon:— 'I have had a long interview to-day with the deputation from the Royal Dublin Society; it is evident that many difficulties would be removed if an amalgamation could be effected between the Royal Irish Academy and the Royal Dublin Society. 'The arrangement of such an amalgamation would be a matter entirely for the societies, but it might tend to forward such a scheme if the gentlemen interested were assured that it met with your Lordship's approval, and that if the societies are prepared to take the necessary steps, the Government would give them any aid in its power. 'Further, there is some possibility of an amalgamation of the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland with the Royal Dublin Society. If this were carried out would the Government be prepared to provide for the Agricultural Shows in the Phœnix Park, and remove them from the present buildings beside Leinster House?' Lord Sandon has authorized me to give this assurance generally. Will you, therefore, kindly inform the members of the deputation of this? I should add that I told Lord Sandon that if an amalgamation were effected, it would probably take the form of a new society, with a limited number of Fellows, ordinary members, and an agricultural section. I said nothing about this in the Memorandum, as it is, of course, a matter purely for the societies to arrange. Therefore, it was a mistaken notion that the Government tried to force these Societies into an amalgamation. And when the noble and learned Lord said there was a grotesque unfitness in the amalgamation of these Societies he might remind him that with that the Government had nothing to do; and, of course, if the Societies themselves felt such to be the case they would not amalgamate. Then the noble and learned Lord talked of the grant being taken through the Science and Art Department of South Kensington; but perhaps the noble and learned Lord was not aware that in reality the grant came through the Lord President of the Council—because Art and Science was one of the branches of the Department. Education was divided into two heads—Primary Education and Scientific and Art Education, both of which were under the Lord President of the Council. This was not a suggestion emanating from the Science and Art Department nor from the Lord President of the Council, but was what was recommended by the Royal Commission presided over by the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Leinster). The Report to which he alluded contained the following:— We regret our inability to carry out the Minute of the 22nd of May in its literal integrity, by framing a plan for the formation of a separate Department of Science and Art for Ireland analogous in its constitution to the existing Science and Art Department in London; as a mature consideration has convinced us that the formation of a separate Department for Ireland would be detrimental to the interests of science and art in that country. We are of opinion, however, that all the advantages for Ireland proposed in that Minute may be practically secured by the arrangements indicated in the following recommendations:— 'That in order to afford advantages and facilities to students, artizans and others in Dublin, in some respects similar to those which are yielded by the South Kensington Museum in London, and in other respects to those afforded by the Science and Art Museum in Edinburgh, it is very desirable that there should be a General Industrial and Fine Arts Museum in Dublin. The people of Ireland would thus obtain the fullest opportunity of improvement in the cultivation of the industrial and decorative arts by the study of approved models and objects. 'That this Museum should be purely a State Establishment, under a Director responsible to the Lord President or other Minister in charge of education. 'That the Director of the Science and Art Museum should be in immediate relation, not only with the Minister of Education, but also with the Irish Government, and it should be his duty to place himself in communication with the representatives of the various industrial interests of the country, with a view to the development of its resources. 'That all Votes for museums and educational establishments in Ireland should be taken on the responsibility of the Lord President of the Council or other Minister in charge of education directly responsible to Parliament.' He might add that within the last few months arrangements had been made with the Royal Society in London for the purpose of carrying out further researches, and they were to account for the money they received through the Science and Art Department, and through the Lord President of the Council, and he had no reason to believe that what was acceptable as regarded our Royal Society here would be distasteful to the Royal Irish Society.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at Seven o'clock, to Thursday next, half-past Ten o'clock.