Schools grant scheme a threat to Catholic education, say bishops
Castleknock College, one of Dublin’s most prestigious private secondary Catholic schools in the early 1900s Photo: National Library of Ireland, LROY 1120

Schools grant scheme a threat to Catholic education, say bishops

Catholic authorities at odds with ASTI over new proposals

Published: 28 June 1913

The Bishop of Limerick, the most Rev. Dr Edward Thomas O’Dwyer, has hit out at proposals for the distribution of new grant money to Irish intermediate schools.

Speaking at a prize-giving event at Laurel Hill Convent School in Limerick, Dr. O’Dwyer claimed that the proposal to make the awarding of grants for secondary schools conditional on the employment of a certain number of lay teachers is a threat to the independence of Catholic education.

Heretofore, the Government regulation of Intermediate education has taken the form of a test by examination and the inspection of the quality of work being conducted in schools. With this new measure, however, the Government will demand not only that the education is efficiently provided, but that it is provided, at least in part, by lay persons.

Lay secondary teachers were broadly supportive of Augustine Birrell’s plans for the sector. In this letter, dated 5 June1913 , William J Warner, a teacher and father of six children, acknowledges efforts ‘for the improvement of the position of secondary teachers’, while requesting temporary work to boost his inadequate salary
(Photo: National Archives of Ireland, CSO/RP 1913, 10499)

According to Dr. O’Dwyer, the very fabric of Catholic education in Ireland is under threat and it requires a determined defence. He told his audience: ‘Our schools are our own, built and equipped by the Catholics of Ireland, and hitherto have enjoyed absolute liberty to educate the pupils in complete freedom in accordance with their own religious principles. We must guard that independence at any cost, at the cost, if necessary, of absolute poverty, but the paltry bribe of £40,000 a year is not going to purchase us.’

Dr. O’Dwyer’s views were echoed by the Bishop of Derry, the Most Rev. Dr McHugh, who was also speaking at a prize-day at St. Columb’s College in his native city. Dr. McHugh claimed that the condition attached to the awarding of grants was unacceptable. Directing much of his criticism at the architect of the plan, the Chief Secretary, Augustine Birrell, Dr. McHugh remarked: ‘If Ireland was fit for Home Rule...surely she must be presumed to possess such intelligence and such a sense of justice as would enable her to make an equitable distribution of a paltry £40,000 without being put on leading strings.’

In a further attack on Government education policy towards Ireland, Dr. McHugh pointed to the underfunding of the secondary sector in Ireland in comparison to that in England or Scotland. It would, he said, take an annual grant of £120,000 a year to bring Ireland up to a position of parity.

The opposition of the Catholic authorities to the so-called 'Birrell Scheme' is in striking contrast to that of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland.  The representative body, which was founded in 1909, supports the new measures as step towards the settlement of what they see as the ‘just claims’ of lay teachers in Irish secondary schools.

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