THE IRISH UNIVERSITY QUESTION.
rICHE Irish Bishops are making a very serious effort to 1 get their Catholic University College properly endowed with something like an adequate apparatus of books,. laboratories, scholarships, and. fellowships before the greater dispute between Ireland and. Great Britain comes to a final issue. Dr. Woodlock, the Catholic Bishop of Armagh, has resigned his seat on the Senate of the Royal -University, on the express ground that no step is taken by -the Government to satisfy the Irish Catholic claims to artore equal advantages with the Protestants in regard to University education,—though the Government have them- selves frankly admitted the justice of these claims. And the Catholic Bishop of Limerick, Dr. O'Dwyer, speaking on Monday week at the distribution of prizes to the students of a Catholic College in that city, de- livered a very urgent appeal to the Government and to Irishmen generally so far as they have any influence in the matter, to get this question settled before the greater question of legislative separation comes before the country for its verdict, on the ground that in whatever way the latter question may be settled, the previous settle- ment of the Catholic University question would remove one of the bitterest causes of political and religious strife. Bishop O'Dwyer was perhaps hardly wise in weakening his Plea by speaking of the Irish Catholic Episcopate as a body naturally so Conservative that it was a great anomaly to see them "driven by a sense of the injustice done to their flocks into the exceptional form of protest" which they had made in connection with this question. Considering -that Bishop O'Dwyer and Bishop Healy are the only prelates who have evinced their sympathy with the very moderate Conservatism of the Holy See itself in relation to the policy of the Parnellite agitators, - it should not be very easy to excite English sympathy with the -educational wrongs of the Catholics on the very flimsy plea that only very powerful considerations would lead the Episcopate into so Radical an attitude as they have -assumed on this question. The Irish Catholic Episcopate, as an order, have shown no sign of Conservatism on even the most fundamental questions affecting the moral and social order of the State. They are willing to throw both -charity and justice to the winds rather than not support the peasantry, and the priesthood who belong to the peasantry, in their demands. And though Bishop O'Dwyer is him- self a bright exception to the rule, it is a most unfortunate moment at which to talk of the natural Conservatism of the Catholic Episcopate, which is a gigantic minus quantity, instead of what Bishop O'Dwyer represents it to be. Still, we fully agree with him that if Protestant Ireland could but be persuaded into a temporary fit of reasonableness,—which, kowever, we cannot say that Catholic Ireland has lately done anything to promote,—it would be an excellent thing to settle the Catholic University education question out of hind, before the greater issue comes up for decision. If Home-rule were defeated, the fair settlement of the 'Catholic claims by the Imperial Parliament would soften to some extent, though only to a very moderate extent, the bitterness of that defeat. And if Home-rule were vic- torious, a question would have been removed from the number of those needing to be submitted to the Irish Legislature, which could hardly have been discussed in that Legislature without giving rise to very acrimonious and passionate controversy. So that Home-rulers and Unionists might alike agree to settle the Irish University question if they can, independently of the issue between Home-rule and the Union.
But that "if they can" is the core of the difficulty. We have seen how Mr. Balfour's proposal was received,— how it immediately alienated the -Ulster Conservatives -who were disposed to withdraw their support from -the Government on the Irish Question generally, the moment they understood that the Government intended to give their enemies, as they regarded them, a triumph over - them, in the matter of the University question. We have no more doubt of the merits of the case than we have of the merits of Catholic Emancipation or of the Disestablishment -of the Irish Church. But we have to deal with allies who would restore the Irish Protestant Establishment if they could, and who at the time of Catholic Emancipation were very far from being agreed on that question either, :and who ask very plausibly whether the Roman Catholic Episcopate have shown the least trace of a better and more liberal attitude towards Protestants since the date of the Disestablishment, or have shown rather a some- .what less friendly and more imperious attitude, than they showed before. And it certainly is not easy to convince such allies that they would do well to make a concession -which, in their belief, would further exalt the horn of the Roman Catholic Episcopate, already sufficiently dictatorial and hostile towards Great Britain, before they have settled the great controversy which is chiefly occupying us. We think, as we have always thought, that they would do well to make that concession. But Bishop O'Dwyer hardly smoothes the way for it, when he threatens the Protestants that if they are not wise in time, the first Home-rule Legislature in Ireland will be certain to seize on the revenues of Trinity College, Dublin, and divide them amongst the sects, leaving, we suppose, to the Church of Ireland no more than their proportionate share, reckoned in terms of their relative numbers. That is a view of the rights of corporate property which the Protestants would regard as a mere doctrine of plunder, and we think it unfortunate that Bishop O'Dwyer, if he really desires conciliation and. compromise, should have held out such a threat as that embodied in the following passage of his speech :—" I ask my Protestant fellow-countrymen, who are so naturally interested in the prosperity of Trinity College, to consider this,—Home-rule is at least pro- bable, whether they like it or not. They will allow that it has come within the scope of practical politics, and before many years they may find themselves living under an Irish Parliament, I trust; and I am con- fident that if that should ever come to pass, they shall never have to complain of injustice or maltreatment from their Catholic fellow-countrymen ; but, on the other hand, they cannot then expect us to tolerate the injustice of which we are now the victims, and if equality is then to be established in University education in Ireland, I ask them, what fund will there be available for the purpose besides the ample revenue of Trinity College ? I am perfectly convinced that if that time comes, you will have but one National University in Ireland,—that of Dublin,—and that its wealth will be divided on equitable principles between denominational colleges of the various religious bodies. But such a change could never be brought about without fierce struggles in which strong and bitter feelings would be evoked on both sides. Is that a happy prospect even for the most enthusiastic and sanguine Home-ruler ?" We do not feel so sure as the Catholic Bishop of Limerick feels, that "the most enthusiastic and sanguine Home-ruler" would not enjoy the prospect very much, that he would not even look forward to it as the most delicious morsel of the party triumph which he expects ; but whether that be so or not, we do feel sure that the -Ulster Conservatives are not at all likely to be seduced by such a prospect as that held out by Bishop O'Dwyer, into what they would regard as a premature and humiliating surrender. We believe that the House of Commons could and would settle the question even now, if we could but secure a temperate spirit in the Opposition, a spirit averse to the policy of tripping up the Government wherever there is a good chance of tripping them up, even though they happen to be in the right, and if one or two leaders among the Irish Conservatives and Protestants were willing to do justice in this matter, if only as an evidence of the larger and more sober spirit which now animates them. If Mr. Gladstone would take the matter into his own hands as leader of the Opposition, and Colonel Saunderson and Mr. T. W. Russell would honestly take counsel with Mr. Balfour as to the terms of settlement, the Irish University question might be settled next Session without any prolonged conflict at all. Of course no raid must be made on Trinity College, Dublin. But an ample endowment should certainly be provided in some way for the Catholic University College, and for any other Protestant Sectarian College which honestly holds to the principle of separate religious education for University students, as, for example, the Presbyterians of Ulster do, though their Belfast College is already, we believe, fairly, if not fully provided for. There can be no manner of question that it is not fair to leave the Roman Catholics to the rather hap-hazard provision afforded by the open bursaries and fellowships in the Royal University, and quite destitute of the rich academic appointments of Trinity College, Dublin, and yet to expect their students to attain a scholarship as ripe and elaborate as that of the students of Trinity College, Dublin. That is an injustice which should certainly be removed, and the sooner it is removed, the better it will be for all parties in the State. But it is simply impossible that it should be removed unless both the leaders of Opposition and one or two leaders amongst the Ulster Conservatives are willing to stir in the matter. The Government cannot afford to alienate their best friends for a secondary matter of this kind; and though we earnestly desire to see the difficulty settled, and settled before it has given rise to any fierce party fights, we feel no hope that it can be settled unless Mr. Gladstone and some of the leading Ulster Conservatives will lend their aid. They would be wise to be magnanimous. But in Irish politics neither wisdom nor magnanimity seems generally to prevail.