Burke claimed his suspension following incidents where he expressed opposition to transgenderism on religious grounds, is unconstitutional and unlawful
The High Court is this afternoon hearing an application from Mr Burke for an injunction restraining the school from continuing to place him on administrative leave pending the outcome of a disciplinary process.
Mr Burke, an evangelical Christian, was jailed nine days ago after breaching an injunction restraining him from attending, or attempting to teach pupils, at Wilson’s Hospital School, the Church of Ireland diocesan boarding school in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath.
Representing himself in court, he told Ms Justice Eileen Roberts it would be “unconscionable and against natural justice and fair procedure for the disciplinary process to continue further”.
He also claimed he had suffered “reputational damage” and “significant damage to my teaching career” as a result of the actions of the school’s board of management.
The teacher believes he will be released from prison and be able to return to work without having to purge his contempt if the court grants him the injunction.
He was supported in court today by his parents, Seán and Martina, and siblings Isaac and Ammi. All are members of a well-known family from Castlebar, Co Mayo, some of whom have been involved in a number of legal and other disputes in recent years, some relating to their religious beliefs.
Mr Burke told the judge that as well as seeking an injunction halting his suspension, he was seeking declarations the suspension was contrary to various articles of the constitution relating to personal rights, freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion.
He is also seeking declarations his suspension is “unfair, unjust and unlawful” and that a report by former school principal Niamh McShane, which was a factor in his suspension, did not ascertain or present facts in a fair manner.
A further declaration is being sought that the manner in which he was suspended was contrary to a Department of Education circular.
He alleged that any conclusions reached against him as part of a disciplinary process would be “legally unsustainable”.
His application is being opposed by the school’s board of management.
Mr Burke has claimed that due to his religious beliefs he could not comply with a “demand” from Ms McShane last May to address a transgender pupil by a different name and to use the pronoun “they” instead of “he”.
He was brought to the court from Mountjoy Prison for the hearing of the application, which got underway at 2.30pm.
If his application is successful, it would likely lead to his release from jail without having to purge his contempt of court.
“The effect would be to vacate the order, effectively freeing me from Mountjoy. I would be back in the classroom tomorrow,” Mr Burke told the court at an earlier hearing on Monday, when he filed the counterclaim.
In the action, he had also been seeking injunctions restraining the board of management from holding a disciplinary meeting in Mullingar, Co Westmeath today, taking other steps in the disciplinary process, and from dismissing him.
However, Mr Justice Conor Dignam ruled on Monday that only his application for an injunction against his suspension would be heard.
Mr Justice Dignam decided the other injunctions sought in the counterclaim did not need to be ruled upon at this stage after a lawyer for the board of management informed the court the disciplinary meeting had been adjourned indefinitely and that Mr Burke would be given three days’ notice if it was to be rescheduled.
Ms McShane’s report, the content of which Mr Burke is now objecting to, voiced “serious concerns” about how the teacher might act in future.
“These concerns extend to the student concerned and the entire student body,” she said.
A number of incidents were outlined in the report.
These included Mr Burke’s interruption of a chapel service last June marking the school’s 260th anniversary.
As the final blessing was being made, he stood up and spoke for two or three minutes, objecting to Ms McShane’s request to staff.
According to an affidavit filed by chair of the board, John Rogers, a dinner took place afterwards. It is claimed that after the meal Mr Burke approached Ms McShane and, in a “heated” manner, asked her to withdraw the request.
Mr Burke, it was claimed, followed her and continued to question her loudly, only stopping when other people stood in between them.
The teacher has sought to downplay both incidents.
He claimed he spoke at the chapel service as he wanted to honour the legacy of the school’s funder, Andrew Wilson.
He also denied pursuing Ms McShane in a heated manner.
“Many of these findings are damaging to my personal and professional reputation,” he said.