Enoch Burke accuses appeal court of putting ‘gun to my head’ in tense exchange

Mr Burke spent 108 days in prison for contempt of court orders and is currently being fined €700 for each day

Enoch Burke. Photo: Collins© Collins Photos

Enoch Burke leaving the High Court with his sister Ammi at a previous hearing. Photo: Collins© Collins Courts


Enoch Burke has accused the Court of Appeal of putting a gun to his head after it decided this morning to consider only part of his appeal of various orders of the High Court.

The president of the court, Mr Justice George Birmingham, said it would consider appeals of just two of the four High Court decisions Mr Burke was seeking to challenge.

The three-judge court made the decision to limit what it would consider this morning after the dismissed schoolteacher refused to say if he would stay away from Wilson’s Hospital School pending the delivery of its ruling.

Mr Burke has continued to go to its premises in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath each school day despite first being suspended and later dismissed from his job there as a teacher of history and German.

He spent 108 days in prison for contempt of court orders and is currently being fined €700 for each day he remains in contempt.

His suspension last August came after Mr Burke, an evangelical Christian, refused to comply with a request to call a transgender pupil by a new name and by their preferred pronouns.

Mr Justice Birmingham, sitting with Mr Justice John Edwards and Ms Justice Maire Whelan, said the court was “unimpressed Mr Burke won’t offer any assurance” regarding his future conduct.

After rising to consider whether it would hear the appeal at all, the judge said the court would consider his challenge to orders restraining him from turning up at the school but would not consider what he described as “positive” orders being sought by Mr Burke.

Mr Justice Birmingham also warned that the court may not deliver a decision in the appeal at all if Mr Burke persists with his contempt of court by going to the school.

“Whether there will be a decision on the merits will be very much in Mr Burke’s hands,” said Mr Justice Birmingham.

During testy exchanges between Mr Burke and the court president, the schoolteacher said: “This is a gun to my head. What the court has done this morning is made law.

Enoch Burke leaving the High Court with his sister Ammi at a previous hearing. Photo: Collins© Collins Courts

“It has made a novel distinction between past and future conduct without pointing to any precedent from any jurisdiction.

“What is being said to me now today is that there is no guarantee that this court will, in considering my argument today, deliver a judgment.

“It is like a student were to sit the Leaving cert with no guarantee it would be marked.”

He repeatedly questioned the court president, demanding to know if the other two decisions would be reviewed, provoking a warning from Mr Justice Birmingham that the court would “not be interrogated”.

At the outset of the hearing, Mr Justice Birmingham said the court had “an element of discretion” to hear appeals from people who have previously been in contempt of court orders.

However, he said the court would have a difficulty with embarking on the hearing of an appeal in a “in a situation where there was ongoing disobedience of court orders”.

He repeatedly asked Mr Burke if he would abide by orders restraining him from attending at the school premises while his appeal was before the court and while a judgment on the appeal was awaited. The judge said he expected any decision of the court would have to be reserved to a later date.

However, the teacher refused to give the “yes or no” answer sought by Mr Justice Birmingham.

The judge said Mr Burke had made his position clear.

Mr Burke is not appealing the order which resulted in his imprisonment.

Instead he is asking the Court of Appeal to set aside a temporary injunction granted by Ms Justice Siobhan Stack last August restraining him from attending for work, and a subsequent decision of Mr Justice Max Barrett last September to keep the injunction in place pending a final hearing of the matter.

These decisions will be considered by the Court of Appeal.

But two other subsequent High Court decisions, made by Mr Justice Conor Dignam and Ms Justice Eileen Roberts, will not. These include the dismissal of an application brought by Mr Burke aimed at setting aside his suspension.

Outlining his appeal, Mr Burke claimed the orders restraining him from turning up at the school were “unlawful”, “unconstitutional” and had no legal effect.

Asked a number of times by Ms Justice Maire Whelan how he had intended to interact with the transgender student, Mr Burke refused to give a direct answer and claimed the question was “out of place”. He said his position was he could not comply with the request.

Mr Burke told the court he could not “participate in transgenderism”.

Asked by Mr Justice Edwards what he meant by this, Mr Burke said he based his beliefs “on the scriptures rather than transgender ideology”.

He said he would have had to acknowledge the student “was no longer a male student” and “this I could not do” as it would be a denial of his convictions and religious beliefs.

In response, Mr Justice Edwards remarked: “It doesn’t seem to allow for the possibility that someone can have a different view from you.”

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