contempt of court | 

Teacher who refused to call trans student ‘they’ will contest application to have him jailed

Enoch Burke was arrested today after turning up for work at Wilson’s Hospital School, in defiance of an injunction secured by the school last week

Enoch Burke (C), being brought into the Four Courts by Gardaí, accompanied by his father, Sean Burke (L). PIC: Collins Courts© Collins Courts

Enoch Burke (R), being brought into the Four Courts by Gardaí, accompanied by his father, Sean Burke (L). PIC: Collins Courts

Shane Phelan and Aodhan O’

Enoch Burke has said he will oppose a High Court application to have him jailed for contempt of court.

The schoolteacher was arrested this morning after turning up for work at Wilson’s Hospital School, in defiance of an injunction secured by the school last week requiring him to stay away from the premises.

The evangelical Christian was suspended on full pay on August 24 pending the outcome of a disciplinary process after clashing with the school’s principal and board of management over a that teachers address a transgender student by a new name and use the pronoun “they” instead of “he”.

However, he continued to attend at the school for the hours he would have been rostered for had he not been suspended, claiming his suspension was “unreasonable, unjust and unlawful”.

He had been sitting in an empty classroom as pupils were moved to other rooms where they were taught by a substitute teacher.

The school secured an attachment order on Friday requiring gardaí to bring him before the court.

Enoch Burke (R), being brought into the Four Courts by Gardaí, accompanied by his father, Sean Burke (L). PIC: Collins Courts

Mr Burke was arrested at the boarding school’s premises in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath this morning and brought by gardaí to the High Court in Dublin, where he arrived at 10.30am.

He was accompanied by four gardaí, his father Sean and brother Isaac.

Barrister Rosemary Mallon, for the board of management, told Mr Justice Michael Quinn that it was making an application for his committal – the term used for the imprisonment of a person for contempt of court.

She said the length of the application depended on the attitude of Mr Burke.

The teacher, wearing a grey check suit, stood to day he wanted five or ten minutes “to answer the charge”.

Asked by the judge if he was contesting the application, he replied: “Yes.”

Mr Burke is from a well-known family from Castlebar, Co Mayo. He and some of his siblings have been involved in several legal and other disputes in recent years, some of which related to their religious beliefs.

Mr Burke has been at odds with the hierarchy at the Church of Ireland diocesan school since May, when then principal Niamh McShane issued the request to staff.

It came following a meeting between the principal, a student and the student’s parents where the principal was told the child wished to transition.

According to papers filed in court, Mr Burke later told Ms McShane he could not agree with transgenderism and that “the demand” she had made should be withdrawn.

However, the principal pointed out that the ethos of the school was inclusive, and that the welfare of students was paramount.

Ms McShane told Mr Burke that it was also part of the school’s admission policy that it would not discriminate against a student on any of the grounds set out in the Equal Status Act.

She said any refusal to address persons by their preferred gender or new name would constitute discrimination on gender grounds.

An affidavit filed by board of management chair John Rogers outlined how Mr Burke refused to accept this and repeatedly raised the issue and clashed with the principal and the board.

This included an incident where Mr Burke interrupted a church service marking the school’s 260th anniversary in June.

During the closing prayer, he is said to have stood up and spoke for between two and three minutes, demanding the request by Ms McShane be withdrawn.

He claimed it was against the ethos of the school and the vision of its founder, Andrew Wilson, as well as the teachings of the Church of Ireland.

The outburst prompted a walk-out by members of the congregation, including 6th year students.

According to Mr Rogers, a dinner took place following the service, after which Mr Burke approached Ms McShane and, in a “heated” manner, asked her to withdraw the request she had made to staff.

Ms McShane said she was willing to speak to him, but this was not the appropriate place and she walked away from him. However, it is alleged he followed and continued to question her loudly. Mr Rogers said other people stood in between them to prevent the continuation of the questioning.

Wilson's Hospital in Co Westmeath

In a report to the school’s board, Ms McShane, who has since moved on to a principal post in another school, expressed “serious concerns” about how Mr Burke might act in future.

“These concerns extend to the student concerned and the entire student body,” she said.

The Burke family are no stranger to controversy.

Earlier this year, Enoch’s sister Ammi, a solicitor, clashed with the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and a judge over the handling of an unfair dismissals claims she is taking against law firm Arthur Cox.

Her claim was thrown out by the WRC following repeated interruptions by her mother Martina Burke.

The family matriarch runs Burke Christian School in Castlebar and home-schooled her ten children.

Three years ago, she criticised LGBT+ training for school principals, describing it as an “amoral, permissive framework”.

Last April, she and two of her children, Jemima and Josiah, were removed by gardaí from an inquest after making unfounded claims about a child’s healthcare.

In 2021, Ammi, Enoch and two other siblings, Isaac and Kezia, lost a court case against NUI Galway over a decision to ban them from membership of college societies for life. The court heard the Burkes distributed flyers which implicitly connected gay marriage to paedophilia and incest.

Mr Burke, who did not appear in court on Friday and was not legally represented but had been made aware of the court’s decision to grant the order for his arrest, counsel for the school said.

The school claims despite being served with and being made aware of the interim injunction, Mr Burke continues to attend at the school.

Mr Burke, who, the court has heard, does not agree with transgenderism.

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