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Enoch Burke: School seeks sequestration of teacher’s assets over defiance of court order

Mr Burke has turned up at the Westmeath boarding school, in defiance of a court order, each morning since the it reopened last Thursday

Shane PhelanIndependent.ie

Wilson’s Hospital School is to seek the sequestration of Enoch Burke’s assets over his continued defiance of court orders restraining him from attending for work.

The move was signalled to the High Court this morning, where the school was granted permission for short service of the application on the schoolteacher.

Mr Burke has turned up at the premises of the Co Westmeath boarding school, in defiance of a court order, each morning since the it reopened last Thursday following the Christmas holidays.

The history and German teacher, who is an evangelical Christian, has been suspended on full pay since August after clashing with school management over a request that teachers call a transgender child “they” instead of “he”.

But after he continued to show up for work in August and September, the school secured a temporary order restraining him from doing so, which he then breached, leading to his incarceration for 108 days for contempt of court.

Despite not purging his contempt, a judge finally ordered his release from Mountjoy Prison on December 21 after finding the teacher was “exploiting his imprisonment for his own ends”.

Rosemary Mallon BL, for the Co Westmeath school’s board of management, told the court today Mr Burke had been breaching the order since last Thursday and was again at the school this morning.

She said the school was not seeking Mr Burke’s arrest, as he is already scheduled to appear in court tomorrow. It is also not seeking to have him imprisoned again for contempt.

However, the barrister said it would be seeking the sequestration of his assets.

This is an enforcement process available against property owned by a person who is in contempt of court.

If the school is successful, it would hold possession of Mr Burke’s assets until the court orders what is to be done with them.

The process is designed to compel compliance with a court order and, in theory, sequestered assets can be sold if their owner continues to breach an order.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt granted permission for short service of the application, which will allow the school to personally serve Mr Burke on its premises today or by email if that is unsuccessful.

The matter will return to the High Court tomorrow, when it will be dealt with along with a previous scheduled application by Mr Burke in which he is seeking to stop the school from proceeding with a disciplinary meeting on January 19.

“It seems to make perfect sense for all matters arising from this saga to be dealt with at the same time,” said Mr Justice Hunt.

Ms Mallon said the school was seeking the sequestration of Mr Burke’s assets until January 19. She said the school’s application could be heard after Mr Burke’s application has been dealt with.

Since last Thursday, Mr Burke has been arriving at the Multyfarnham school shortly after 8.30am and leaving again just before 4pm.

Last Friday, Mr Burke said he was being confined to a corridor while on the premises.

He has sought to justify his defiance of the court order, repeatedly stating his opposition to transgenderism and claiming that complying would be in violation of his religious beliefs.

“I came to school this morning to teach and I was standing in the corridor for the day. I have not done anything wrong. I am simply awaiting reinstatement in my classroom,” he told reporters last Friday.

Mr Burke said he had a right to his religious beliefs.

The school has assured parents that classes and school activities are ongoing as normal.

Gardaí were aware of his presence at the school, but the force did not intervene as the matter related to the breach of a civil order.

Mr Burke has been teaching at the school for four years.

But following a request from then principal Niamh McShane last may in respect of pronouns to be used in connection with a transgender pupil, Mr Burke was involved in a number of public flashpoint incidents.

The High Court has previously heard these included his interruption of a church service and his questioning of Ms McShane at a subsequent dinner. It was alleged that at a dinner after the service, Mr Burke questioned Ms McShane loudly about the matter and that other people had to stand between them to prevent the continuation of his questioning.

In a ruling releasing Mr Burke last month, Mr Justice Brian O’Moore warned that the only threat to teacher’s freedom would be if he again breaches any order of the court.

He said that if the teacher again breached orders, the school could come back to court to seek his attachment and committal, the sequestration of his assets, or any other appropriate measure.

Mr Justice O’Moore also said that complying with the orders would not in any way compromise or require Mr Burke to do anything in breach of his religious beliefs.

He said the orders did not oblige Mr Burke to address anyone in a particular way. They simply prohibited him from entering the school's premises or interfering with the school’s educational activities.

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