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Enoch Burke wants senior clerics to testify about Church of Ireland’s teaching on transgender issues

Enoch Burke

Bishop Patricia Storey

Enoch Burke. Photo: Gerry Mooney


Sacked schoolteacher Enoch Burke says he has subpoenaed three senior Church of Ireland clerics to testify in the High Court case taken against him by Wilson’s Hospital School.

Mr Burke has filed an affidavit stating he personally served subpoenas on Patricia Storey, the Bishop of Meath and Kildare, who is the patron of the school, Ferran Glenfield, Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh, and Canon Alistair Graham, who is based in Mullingar, Co Westmeath.

The move indicates Mr Burke will seek to raise the Church of Ireland’s views on transgender issues in the trial of the action, which is due to begin on Wednesday.

The teacher, who is an evangelical Christian, was suspended from the Co Westmeath school last August after a number of incidents in which he clashed with management over a request from the then principal Niamh McShane to call a transgender student by a new name and by “they/them” pronouns.

This included the interruption of a chapel service, at which Bishop Storey was present, and the questioning of Ms McShane following a school dinner afterwards. Mr Burke claims he could not comply on religious grounds.

In an affidavit of service, Mr Burke said he had served the subpoenas on the religious leaders over the weekend as the case between him and the school “concerns a religious issue”.

In the filing, he said “transgenderism” was “contrary to scripture and Church of Ireland teaching” and that up to now, the voices of Church of Ireland leaders “have not been heard” in the case.

Mr Burke also said that in June 2020, the Church of Ireland stated: “The Church of Ireland’s teaching recognises two genders – male and female – and is unchanged.”

The case, which will centre on the conduct of the disciplinary process and whether injunctions obtained against Mr Burke were justified, is scheduled to last four days before Mr Justice Alexander Owens.

Mr Burke has filed a counterclaim against the school, claiming his suspension was procedurally flawed and was unlawful. The claims are denied by the school.

He was sacked from his post as a teacher of history and German in January and is separately appealing the dismissal to a tribunal.

The issue of Mr Burke’s ongoing contempt of a court order restraining him from going to the school is likely to be an issue raised in the case.

The teacher kept turning up at the school premises despite being suspended, leading to the school’s board of management securing injunctions restraining him from doing so. One of the injunctions remains in force.

He spent 108 days in prison last year for contempt of court after defying orders but resumed turning up at the school following his release and is currently facing fines of €700 for each day he remains in contempt.

The High Court directed Mr Burke to pay €23,800 in fines by March 23, but it is unclear if he has done so.

If he hasn’t, it is open to the school to take steps to enforce the fines.

An issue likely to be raised by Mr Burke in the trial is an email from a parent of the transgender student.

In the email to the school’s principal Frank Milling in January, the parent said they were never told by Wilson’s Hospital School that their child was the one referred to in the legal proceedings.

The parent said they only learned “the child in question is my child” after reading a court judgment which outlined what year the unidentified student was in.

“The school did not inform me and I feel now that there’s a safety concern for my family. This whole situation could have been avoided,” the parent wrote.

The parent also expressed concern personal information “may be out there”, saying they received a letter from the Co Westmeath school last August stating “my family personal data may have been stolen”. Further details of the alleged data breach have not been disclosed.

The parent was seeking an update on the issue “because now my family’s information may be out there and with everything going on this could be serious”.

The contents of the email, which went on to be at variance with aspects of the school’s account of the affair, were revealed in an affidavit filed with the High Court by its principal Frank Milling.

In an affidavit last August, the school’s chairman John Rogers said a meeting took place the previous May between the student, their parents and Ms McShane at which the then principal was advised the student wanted to transition and to be addressed by a new name and pronoun going forward. Mr Rogers based his account on a report compiled by Ms McShane.

However, the parent said in the email to Mr Milling they wished to be clear that the purpose of the meeting was to “reengage [their child] back to school”.

The parent also said that while the child had requested to go by a new name, “the they/them pronoun came from Wilson’s” and there was no principal or deputy principal at the meeting.

In a responding affidavit, Mr Burke has claimed the email demonstrates that orders secured against him were obtained on the basis of “false statements”.

He said he believed the parent of the student who attended the meeting had no desire to see the school litigate or take disciplinary action against him.

The affidavit filed by Mr Milling outlining the parent’s email was one of four filed by the school to deal with the earlier inaccuracies in court filings.

Lawyers for the school have argued the inaccuracies have no bearing on the granting of orders against Mr Burke.

Mr Milling, in his affidavit, also stated: “The student’s parent’s email could be interpreted as a suggestion the change in pronouns was a decision by the school and the school alone.

“However, I understand from my enquiries of the two members of staff who were at the meeting that is not the case.

“The student was clear that they did not want to use their previous gender specific pronouns and all, including the parent, agreed that they/them would be used going forward in the school.”

Mr Milling said he understood “a wide range of matters” were discussed, “not just the student’s name change and pronouns”.

He also said he understood from his predecessor that the word “parents” in her report as opposed to “parent” was a generalisation on her part.

“I believe nothing turns on this. However, it is embarrassing and very unfortunate that this error was made,” said Mr Milling.

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