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Transgender row teacher Enoch Burke mounts legal challenge against his suspension

If his application is successful, it would likely lead to his release from jail without having to purge his contempt of court

Enoch Burke being brought into the Bridewell garda station last week. Picture by Collins Courts

Shane PhelanIndependent.ie

The High Court is to hear a challenge by Enoch Burke to a school’s decision to suspend him following incidents in which he voiced opposition to transgenderism.

If his application is successful, it would likely lead to his release from jail without having to purge his contempt of court.

The matter could be heard as early as Wednesday after an application was made by the schoolteacher today.

Mr Burke has spent the past week in Mountjoy Prison for breaching temporary orders prohibiting him from attending, and attempting to teach pupils, at Wilson’s Hospital School in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath.

The orders were secured by the board of management of the Church of Ireland diocesan school on August 31 after Mr Burke continued to show up for work despite being suspended on full pay on August 24 pending the outcome of a disciplinary process.

The teacher, who is from a well-known family of evangelical Christians, clashed with the school’s principal after she made a request to staff last May to address a transgender child by a new name and to use the pronoun “they” instead of “he”.

Mr Burke refused to do so on religious grounds, even though the child was not one of his pupils, and publicly requested the withdrawal of the “demand” on a number of occasions.

In a counterclaim against the school, Mr Burke sought various injunctions and declarations, which would have prohibited the board of management from continuing its disciplinary process against him.

Mr Justice Conor Dignam ordered that Mr Burke be brought to the court from Mountjoy after being informed of an “urgent” counterclaim by the teacher’s brother Isaac.

Mr Burke said that if he were successful in overturning the suspension, there would be no basis for the court order directing him to stay away from the school.

“The effect would be to vacate the order, effectively freeing me from Mountjoy,’ he said.

“I would be back in the classroom tomorrow.”

Mr Burke sought four injunctions from the court.

The first was to restrain the board of management from holding a disciplinary meeting, which was scheduled to take place at a hotel in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, on Wednesday.

The second was an injunction restraining the board form putting him on, or continuing, his administrative leave.

The third injunction he sought was against the disciplinary process, while a fourth injunction he sought would restrain the school from dismissing him.

Mr Burke also sought declarations his suspension was in breach of his constitutional rights and unlawful, unjust and unfair.

Mr Justice Dignam adjourned consideration of the second injunction sought by Mr Burke, where he is seeking to restrain the board from continuing his administrative leave, until Wednesday.

He said this would allow the board of management time to file a response.

“It will be a matter for the judge sitting on Wednesday to decide whether to hear it then or to set a date for a hearing,” Mr Justice Dignam said.

The judge said it was “not necessary” for the court to deal with the other three injunctions sought by Mr Burke after the school gave an undertaking in respect of the disciplinary process.

Rosemary Mallon, counsel for the school’s board of management, told the court the disciplinary meeting had been postponed indefinitely in light of Mr Burke clearly stating he had no intention of purging his contempt to be released from prison.

The barrister said no further meeting would be scheduled without giving Mr Burke at least three days’ notice.

After asking for and receiving clarity on the judge’s decision, Mr Burke said: “It is regrettable I am going back to prison. It is wrong.

“There is something you can’t force a man to do and that is to violate his conscience.”

Mr Burke was then returned to Mountjoy and will be brought to the court again on Wednesday afternoon.

As part of his challenge, Mr Burke is seeking a declaration that a report by school principal Niamh McShane, which led to his suspension by the board, led to prejudicial conclusions being reached about him without him being given a right of reply.

He contends that, because of this, his suspension was in breach of fair procedures and natural justice.

Mr Burke has also claimed the suspension was in breach of Department of Education’s rules.


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