The Inspector of Industrial Schools wrote, in July 1949, asking for details of an incident involving Br Olivier, and the Resident Manager replied three days later: Last year [the mother of a boy] happened to visit the School the very day her second son ... had a black eye. She mentioned the matter to me, and I investigated it there and then. Apparently the Brother losing his temper in class gave the boy a blow on the face with the palm of his hand, and next day the skin was discoloured. (Of course the discolouration disappeared within a few days.) I spoke to the Brother implicated (Br Olivier) and made it clear that such should not happen again. And as far as I know nothing has happened since then.
Br Olivier gave evidence to the Investigation Committee. He did not recall being reprimanded by the Resident Manager for using excessive violence, but he thought that an elderly teacher had told him to keep his temper in check.
Br Olivier served in Artane in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He said that all Brothers were issued with a leather strap to maintain discipline, and commented: The danger with that is this; that it could be used excessively ... depending on the type of person you were. You could be somebody with a short fuse like myself, I have to admit I had the short fuse, and there would be times perhaps when ... you would be inclined to use it. You see it was the only armoury you had ... In fairness I would say though that the Rules of the Congregation laid down, I am just thinking back and I want to be fair to the Brothers as well, rules are there maybe to be broke, but it was specified that corporal punishment should never be used for failure in lessons, that type of thing. ... I could go a week, a month, without ever giving a slap to a fella, it could happen. I am not trying to make myself out that I am a saint or that I wouldn’t use it, I certainly would indeed, and I’m awfully sorry ...
Several witnesses complained about Br Olivier’s excessive use of physical punishment. One witness said he used to punch boys on the jaw without warning. The Brother responded to this allegation by saying: Yes. That could be. I am not denying it. I cannot remember any specific case ... but I am not denying that such a thing could have happened.
Another witness told the Committee, ‘life with Br Olivier was one long beating ... for one reason or another’.
This witness described in detail an incident which he believed was a punishment for trying to get out of playing hurling, the sport in the charge of Br Olivier. The witness described how he developed a blister on his finger and tried to lance it with a needle, as he had seen his grandmother doing. He said that Br Olivier, however: ... accused me of deliberately trying to harm myself to avoid going training. He said he would cure it for me. That evening in the dormitory, him and Br Boyce19 called me into the boot room ... they had a kidney shaped utensil and boiling water. They got hold of me and I realised what they were going to do and I tried to make a run for it. The pair of them got hold of me and Br Olivier got my finger and shoved it in. I screamed and roared and tried to pull it back and they held it. After 10 or 15 seconds the pain went. It just went numb and it was bearable. They held it in for a while and out it come. That’s when he told me to walk the passageway, gangway which was linoleum in the centre of the dormitory. As time went on it swelled, it swelled. He obviously went to bed.
Br Olivier gave his account of the incident: ... I was trying to help him, I was trying to cure him. That was a common thing long ago in the country, a bread poultice, you know, in water, like, before it comes to the boil. That’s what I tried to do with him. He looked upon it as a penance I think, but I didn’t mean it as a penance.
The Investigation Committee was faced with two conflicting versions of the motivation for this incident. On the one hand, Br Olivier claimed it was an attempt to treat a septic finger. On the other hand, the complainant firmly believed he was being punished for injuring himself to avoid games.
A second, subsequent incident happened some considerable period later when the boy again failed to attend training. Br Olivier, he said: took me into the washroom. What we used to do if a Brother was going to beat you that night we tried to hang on as long as we could with our trousers on and our clothes. If you stripped off you only had a night-shirt. You didn’t have pyjamas. I thought he is not going to come, good. I stripped off. Sure enough he came in. He brought me into the washroom. He told me to kneel down on the floor and he stood over me with his arms folded. He was quite cool and calm and he said ‘I have told you now more than once to come out and I am going to give you the hiding of your life’ real calm. He was enjoying it. He said ‘hold your hand out. Hold your left hand out and don’t drop it until I tell you’. He took this leather strap out and he gave me four or five straps. I couldn’t hold it out any longer because the strap was starting to go up my arm. I had welts on it. I dropped it. He said ‘I have warned you not to drop your hand. Now, put your other hand out’ and I did. He started to beat me again. Again I dropped it. He said, ‘I did tell you’ and he went berserk. When you seen this man when he lost his temper he was like a wolf. His jaws literally went out and he bared his teeth and he just lashed at me. I was running trying to get away from him. He hit me, it didn’t matter where, legs, back, head, anywhere. During that I must have passed out because when I came around there was water running on my head and the taps from these baths were about that wide ... real old fashioned taps. I must have thought I was dreaming it. Then I thought I was drowning. I drew back and I cracked my head on the nozzle of the tap so I had blood coming down, I had tears, I was soaking wet. He wasn’t finished then. He threw me on the ground and he said ‘you’ll walk that floor for the rest of the night. Of all nights I thought the watchman would come but the watchman didn’t come that night. Nobody came and I walked that passage until 6.30 the next morning. I was so terrified of going to bed that he might come back and beat me again. I walked the whole night without sleep, I swear to God .... The injuries, you just put up with them. I was black and blue but I just had to put up with them ... I never missed a session after that, I can assure you.
In evidence, Br Olivier queried the complainant’s recollection in relation to this incident, as Br Olivier said that he would not have been training boys of the complainant’s age at this time.
Br Olivier did not recall the incident but, with honesty, again said ‘I am capable and I am ashamed to say I am capable of that’. His approach was clear and candid, because he refused to say that it did not happen simply because he could not remember the incident. He was willing to take responsibility for his general behaviour, even though the details of the complainant’s account did not make sense to him or trigger a memory. There was no dispute that such an incident could have happened, and the likely explanation was that the complainant was mistaken about the time lapse between the events he described.
Br Olivier was also involved in a shocking incident that began when a 12-year-old boy accidentally defecated on the floor in the sports dressing room. The Brother came on the scene and some of the excrement ended up on his shoes. The Garda statements made by the witnesses differ as to how this happened, and the precise sequence of events, but what is admitted in statements made by Br Olivier is that he told the boy to lick the excrement from his shoes and he did so. The Brother, in his statement to the Gardaí, said that he was shocked when the boy did this and told him to stop: ‘I only said it out of frustration. I didn’t mean him to do it’.
In the 1990s, Br Olivier wrote an apology to the former resident. A copy was furnished to the Committee by the Congregation. Br Gibson had asked him about a statement made by the former resident. Br Olivier’s letter to the man was as follows: Br Gibson ... brought to my attention a statement you made to him some time ago. I am deeply saddened to learn of your pain and hurt and I sincerely offer you my humble apology for my part in causing any of the above pain and hurt. I hope you find in the goodness of your heart the courage to forgive me and I promise to remember you always in my prayers. I pray and hope that you will find peace of mind and happiness in your life. May God bless and protect you always. Sincerely yours.
In his written response to the Investigation Committee, Br Olivier gave a full account of the incident as he remembered it, and repeated this apology. He wrote: On the day in question I was playing football with another Brother in a field far away from the dressing room. When we finished playing we returned to the dressing room to change and I noticed [the complainant] coming out of the dressing room. I asked him what he was doing there and he said he had to go to the toilet. I brought him back in and noticed the floor and my shoes were covered in faeces. I told him to clean up the mess and he replied he had nothing to clean it with. I spontaneously told him to lick it, meaning my shoes. To my horror he proceeded to do so and I immediately told him to stop and to go back to the class or he would be late. I did not give him any beating or bath and I proceeded to clean my shoes and the floor myself. On the day in question I was not on duty. I also wish to state that I never refused anyone permission to go to the toilet in my entire teaching career. I repeat the unqualified apology I made to [the complainant] sometime ago when this incident was brought to my attention.
He was specific in his statement that the apology was for asking the boy to lick excrement off his shoes. In that sense, it is indeed an ‘unqualified apology’. However, the Christian Brothers, in their response to the complainant’s allegations, wrote: [The complainant] describes in detail an occasion, while out training, he had stomach cramps, and accidentally defected himself. He claims that he was terrified that Brother Olivier would find out, so he hid his soiled clothing. Brother Olivier ultimately found the clothes and stained his shoes on the soiled clothing. [The complainant] alleges that Brother Olivier made him lick his boots clean. This alleged act took place in front of an ‘entire group’. [The complainant] continues that the group was asked to leave and he was then “subjected to a beating from Brother Olivier which lasted about 5 minutes”. In relation to the allegations made against Brother Olivier I would like to refer to a letter dated the ... addressed to [the complainant] from [Br Olivier] In this letter [he] wrote “I am deeply saddened to learn of your pain and hurt and I sincerely offer my humble apology for my part of the above pain and suffering”. While this letter acknowledges [the complainant’s] alleged pain, the letter is not intended to be an admission of the allegations made against Brother Olivier.