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Volume 87: debated on Friday 17 July 1846

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On the Question—the sum of 85,000 l. required to enable the Lord Lieutenant of

Ireland to issue money for the advancement of Education,

wished, without seeking to discuss the questions of education in Ireland, to take that opportunity of urging on his noble Friend at the head of the Government the expediency of doing what he would call common justice to their fellow subjects, members of the Established Church in that portion of the kingdom. He believed that no body of men were more entitled to complain of the system which provided for public education; and what they had demanded, as satisfaction and as justice, was that they should be permitted to apply to the Committee of Privy Council, as members of the National Society. This question had been raised eighteen months ago; and the application, though urged by the Lord Primate of Ireland, was by the then Prime Minister rejected. It should always be borne in mind that the members of the Church in Ireland were members of one united Church; and, if it were just to continue in Ireland a system of education from which that Church derived no benefit, yet, at any rate, they ought to be placed, in their applications to the Committee of Council, on the same footing as their brethren in England.

So far as he could judge from observation, the educational system in Ireland was administered in perfect fairness; but he was sorry to observe much bitterness of feeling excited by the Protestant clergy in preventing the children over whom they had control attending the national schools.

had hoped that the contiguity of the hon. Member for Montrose to the protectionist benches would have imparted a little more liberality than he showed on this occasion. All the Church of England sought was equal freedom of educating the children of her communion with that of other religious denominations. As far as the religious teaching of the people was concerned, he believed that the system of Sunday schools might be most profitably and entirely superseded by means of the Church itself.

rose to support the appeal of the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford. He did not ask the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government for any pledge on this subject, or for any expression of opinion, but begged him to take into his consideration the very anomalous and unfair state of national education in Ireland. He could not conceive how he could tell the Irish people that they had the same laws as the English, when the very first Votes they were called on to approve of showed that the system of education was quite different in the two countries. In England money was given to support that system which was approved of by the majority of those for whose benefit it was intended, or was distributed to the various religious bodies. In Ireland the fact was quite the reverse. The whole of the money was given to support a system of education against which not only the English Church, but the great bulk of the Roman Catholics protested. The hon. Member for Cork had, in the most distinct and emphatic terms, admitted that the claim of the hon. Member for Oxford was just, fair, and equitable. How could that be called a national system of education which excluded one-fourth of the people from its advantages? It appeared that a great number of the people were educated by a system set up in opposition to the National Board. But the House said to those who did not approve of this system, "We will not educate your children at all, unless you approve of that system which has been established by us in our wisdom within the last few years." When he read of the addresses and deputations which had been presented to the Government by a large portion of the intelligent people of Ireland, he thought their opinions entitled to some consideration. Indeed, he was bound to say that the way in which hon. Gentlemen in that House treated those appeals was one of the most extraordinary phenomena of the present day. Thinking that liberty of conscience should be respected, and that the minds of the Irish people should not be alienated from this country by disregard of their feelings and opinions, he would press on the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government the wisdom and the justice of listening to the appeal which had been made to him.

said, he admired so much the temperate and conciliatory tone of the speeches which the noble Lord at the head of the Government had made, both on the present and on the preceding evening, that although he felt very strongly on the subject of the national system of education in Ireland, he had determined not to offer a single remark on the vote before the Committee which could excite an angry or irritating discussion. He agreed most fully with the noble Lord in the opinion he had expressed last night, that the improvement of the social condition of the people of Ireland was an object of such prominent importance at the present time, that it outweighed every other question affecting that country, however important; and he also agreed with the noble Lord in thinking, that with a view to that improvement, it was most desirable to avoid, as far as possible, the discussion of any topics involving party differences in Ireland. Acting on that principle, he would not even now be tempted by the observations of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, to depart from the course he had prescribed for himself, and would not therefore enter at all into the question of the national system of education. But he must say, in consequence of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman, that if the Protestant Clergy and gentry of Ireland objected to that system, and did not lend their sanction in promoting it, it was because, in their opinion, there was a principle of vital importance involved in it, to which they could not conscientiously subscribe, and which presented an insuperable obstacle to their giving their adhesion to it. He would join in the appeal made to the noble Lord at the head of the Government by his hon. Friend near him, the Member for the University of Oxford, and supported by the noble Lord the Member for Newark; and he confidently believed that if the noble Lord would give his mind to the subject, before the next Session of Parliament he would find that without any infringement upon what might now be considered the settled principles of the national system, this irritating question might be settled in the manner suggested by his hon. Friend to the satisfaction of all parties in Ireland.

had no intention of speaking at any length on the question, and only rose lest his silence should be misinterpreted, and lest any one might suppose that he, as a Member of Her Majesty's Government, entertained the smallest doubt of the duty which was imposed on them of maintaining and supporting that principle on which the national system of education in Ireland had been founded. There were no circumstances connected with that country which inspired him with greater hope and pleasure than the belief that, owing to the instrumentality of that system, the people of Ireland were enjoying the advantages of an education which many other countries, more fortunately situated in other respects, did not participate. He thought it was full of hope for her friends that the youth of that country were being trained up in habits of morality and religion, of which he believed the most incalculable advantages would be found in time. The system had been wisely introduced, had, as he believed, worked excellently well, and was receiving less opposition every day.

declared that it was only doing him justice to say that he had carefully abstained from expressing any opinion as to the national system of education in Ireland. He had urged on his noble Friend at the head of Her Majesty's Government the justice and expediency of giving to those members of the Church of England who lived in Ireland the benefit of a common share in national education on principles on which they could accept it. Whatever might be his feelings on the subject, he did not say anything in reference to the merits of the national system itself, and the hon. Member the Secretary for Ireland misunderstood him if he thought so.

Vote agreed to.