Complainants alleged that the regime of discipline was unlawful, cruel and unjust. They claimed that it was impossible to avoid punishment in Artane, and that punishment was administered inconsistently, irrationally and capriciously by different Brothers. They alleged that, even if a boy obeyed all the rules and did what he was told, he could encounter a Brother who was in bad form or who had some other excuse for administering punishment. A boy might be punished for anything or for nothing. They maintained that there was a pervasive climate of fear in the Institution that came about because of the unbridled use of corporal punishment.
One long-serving Disciplinarian was acknowledged, by all the former residents who spoke about him, to have been strict but fair even though he sometimes punished them severely. This Brother was named and accused of physical abuse in many complainants’ statements, but the Investigation Committee did not find that the evidence at Phase II supported such a conclusion.
Br Jules previously worked in Tralee in the 1930s, where his behaviour had also come to the attention of the Provincial and a Visitor. Whilst in Tralee, he was accused of beating a boy severely. When he was asked for an explanation of this severe corporal punishment, Br Jules wrote to the Provincial claiming that the Industrial School Inspector had advised him to give the boy special physical training to remedy a physical defect. The boy failed to perform an exercise on this occasion, though formerly he had been capable of doing so, and he had therefore been punished. Br Jules acknowledged that this punishment was excessive in the circumstances.
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.
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.
The Congregation commented in its Opening Statement that the main complaint of the second letter was that the boy’s character had been impugned. They further argued that, as there was no further document available on the matter, this was a case that they considered to have insufficient documentary evidence, and what was available provided evidence of opposing views and so left matters inconclusive. They did not refer to the first letter containing serious allegations of physical abuse.
In its Opening Statement, the Congregation referred to the following letter as a single allegation, but in fact it contained two separate complaints.
He enclosed the handwritten note quoted above. Mr Ó Síochfhradha asked the Resident Manager for his observations on the parent’s allegations.
The Resident Manager replied that, having investigated the matter, he was convinced that there was no truth in the allegations. The boy concerned had advised him that he had given backchat to a member of staff in front of other boys. The member of staff concerned did not punish him at that point. He was told to report the incident to the Disciplinarian, who was directly in charge of the conduct of the boys in the School. The Resident Manager went on: The boy says that he went off to bed quickly that night immediately after tea without having reported this matter and that when Br Verrill sent for him he got up again. He was told that his offence was rather serious especially on account of the bad example he had given to the other boys [The boy] himself has told me that the only punishment he got was a few slaps. He is definitely sure that he was not ill-treated in any way and that at no time was he struck on any part of the head or face. He is also sure that he never had a black eye or ear injury. The boy says that he had forgotten all about this business until he went on a visit home on the 17th ult. On account of what his father said to him, he believes that whoever took the story to his father must have told lies as his father seemed to have a very wrong impression about the whole affair.
A number of complainants gave evidence in relation to Br Verrill. A resident in Artane in the 1950s said, “I don’t know what he didn’t like about me but he used to beat me ... I told my mother about it ... and she said I must have been up to no good”. He alleged he would beat him for not concentrating in school. He said that he had his trousers pulled down in front of the boys and was walloped with a black leather on his buttocks. He added: He had his hand on my back when he hit me with the leather he put the leather down and had his hands on my testicles, squeezed me, took his hands away and got the leather and walloped me again ... Verrill used to wallop me across the face sometimes. Verrill was the worst, I was scared of the man, I was absolutely scared of him. Anytime I seen him I used to run away or walk away, I was so frightened of the man.
He alleged the Brother would call him names such as ‘soiler’ and ‘slasher’ for wetting the bed. He also called him a dunce in school.
There was no mention in this response that the Brother had previously admitted that there was an element of truth in the allegations.
On 1st March 1963, the grandmother met the Superior General by appointment. At the meeting, that lasted two hours, she discussed her grievances concerning Artane. On the same evening, the Superior General and the Provincial decided that the matter should be handed over to a solicitor if she persisted. The Provincial informed the Superior of Artane and commented: The Superior General had great patience with her and he thought by listening to her and getting her to unburden herself she would be pacified but no she left him thundering against the Brothers and against Artane and saying she was going to make certain that such things would not happen again. The Superior General was very beaten up on Friday evening and today. It is amazing the trouble which one strange woman can make but the Superior General has come to the conclusion that she is an able dealer ...
The main interest of this article is that it made an allegation that a Brother in whose care the boy had been placed punched the boy in the stomach. Mr O’Neill had found the boy retching, brought him to the infirmary when he returned the boy to the School, and made an appointment with the Resident Manager. The man was clearly very concerned. While a doctor was called and he found no marks on the boy’s stomach, the key allegation, that a Brother had punched him, was not investigated. The overwhelming concern in the correspondence was for the reputation of the Institution and the insult sustained by Br Gilles. The Department dismissed the complaint in the article out of hand, and merely sought the Manager’s response ‘to complete the record’.
The general disposition of the Department of Education was defensive. The official’s example of an unfounded allegation is questionable. If the boy who presented to Dr McCabe had bruises on his body, that in itself was a serious matter, calling for a thorough investigation.