'A Hero' | 

Enoch Burke says he received scones, signs and letters during his protest

Sacked teacher claims pupil brought him scones and parent called him ‘a hero’

Enoch Burke has amassed fines in excess of €25,000 to date. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Shane PhelanIndependent.ie

Sacked schoolteacher Enoch Burke has told the High Court that students, parents and former colleagues have offered him support on his daily visits to Wilson’s Hospital School – claiming one student even baked him a bag of scones and a parent described him as “a hero” in their child’s eyes.

His claims are starkly at odds with those of the school’s principal, Frank Milling, who has told the court Mr Burke’s continued presence was “a source of considerable disruption for staff, students, parents and the wider school community”.

Mr Burke, who was sacked in January following a long-running row which had its roots in his refusal on religious grounds to address a transgender pupil by a new name, has repeatedly turned up at the Co Westmeath school in defiance of a court order requiring him to stay away.

The evangelical Christian is currently being fined €700 for each day he remains in contempt, amassing fines of in excess of €25,000 to date.

The teacher of history and German has been denied entrance to school buildings and spends his days standing outside in a courtyard, claiming he is there “to work”.

As part of a review of the matter, Mr Justice Brian O’Moore this week ordered the Co Westmeath school to file an affidavit setting out the occasions Mr Burke has breached the order.

This was done on Wednesday, with Mr Milling stating that Mr Burke was causing “disruption” at the school and that First Year students were “unwilling to use” their entrance “while Mr Burke remains standing outside”.

However, in an affidavit filed today, Mr Burke has denied causing any disruption.

The sworn statement contains his well-worn claim that the court order requiring him to stay away from the school is “manifestly unlawful and unconstitutional”. The Court of Appeal is due to rule on the validity of the order next week.

The affidavit also goes on to claim that not only is he not causing disruption, but he has received support from some pupils, parents and teachers.

“I say that almost every day students greet me either by waving, putting up their hand or making a positive comment,” he said.

Enoch Burke claimed that one day, during a period when he was able to stand in a school corridor, one student gifted him a bag of scones she had baked herself

Mr Burke claims that on January 24, one Second Year student stated: “Mr Burke, we support you. We support you as a school, as a class. Come back every day.”

He claimed First Year students consistently waved at him through the windows of their entrance door close to where he has been standing.

The teacher claimed students had held up handwritten messages of support, including: “What can we do to support you?” and “Do you need anything to eat”.

He claimed that another day, after the final bell, one of his former students approached him looking for private tuition in German and history.

“I have always been treated with the utmost courtesy and respect by students,” he said.

Mr Burke claimed that one day, during a period when he was able to stand in a school corridor, one student gifted him a bag of scones she had baked herself.

In the affidavit, Mr Burke went on to claim that parents had been supportive too, citing letters he had received.

He claimed one parent wrote: “God bless and protect you Enoch. My children and myself are shocked at the outcome of Wilson’s actions against you. You are a hero in my children’s eyes, an inspiration needed for young students during these unprecedented times.”

Mr Burke further claimed he had received support from teachers, saying one had messaged him describing “the whole thing” as “a fiasco”.

“No teacher colleagues have ever verbally expressed unease with or opposition to me being there, but to the contrary have offered me tea, coffee and water,” he claimed.

Enoch Burke arrives in court supported by family members. Photo: PA/Brian Lawless© PA

When the matter was discussed in court last Tuesday, Mr Justice O’Moore did not indicate what course of action he might take following the review.

However, he stated in January that if the daily fine “does not have the desired effect, it can always be increased”.

The judge previously ruled out further imprisonment or the sequestration of Mr Burke’s assets, the two other options available to the court for dealing with ongoing contempt.

The teacher spent 108 days in prison last year for contempt of court orders but was released just before Christmas despite refusing to purge his contempt.

He was dismissed in January following a chaotic disciplinary meeting at a hotel in Mullingar which he and members of his family were ejected from.

Gardaí were called to the hotel after members of the Burke family loudly objected to the presence of two lawyers and the absence of the chairman of the board of management.

Mr Burke has appealed his dismissal.

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