in the dock | 

Enoch Burke’s disciplinary hearing due to go ahead today after teacher’s court bid fails

Enoch Burke

Shane PhelanIndependent.ie

The board of management at Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath is to hold a disciplinary meeting today to consider the case of suspended teacher Enoch Burke.

Mr Burke and members of his family have arrived for the hearing this morning, as have representatives from the school.

The meeting was scheduled after the High Court refused to grant Mr Burke an injunction preventing it from going ahead.

Mr Justice Conor Dignam found that while Mr Burke had satisfied the standard for the injunction, it could only be granted if he agreed to comply with court orders restraining him from attending Wilson’s Hospital School in Multyfarnham.

Mr Burke indicated to the court yesterday that he would not comply with the orders.

The history and German teacher is expected to attend the hearing, which is scheduled to take place at the Mullingar Park Hotel.

The complaint against him arose from incidents in which he publicly expressed opposition to a request from his then principal, Niamh McShane, to address a transgender pupil by a new name and to use the pronouns “they” and “their”.

Mr Burke, who is an evangelical Christian and opposed to transgenderism, refused to comply with the request, claiming that to do so would violate his religious beliefs.

The meeting will take place under stage four of Department of Education and Skills procedures regarding the suspension or dismissal of teachers.

This stage involves board of management consideration of a principal’s report and a presentation by the teacher to the board. Sanctions open to the board include demotion and dismissal.

Mr Burke was suspended on full pay last August. However, he continued to show up for work – even after the school obtained a court order restraining him from doing so. He eventually spent 108 days in Mountjoy Prison for contempt of court.

Despite refusing to purge his contempt, Mr Burke was released just before Christmas, after a judge concluded he was “exploiting his imprisonment to his own ends”.

The disciplinary process was paused while he was in prison, but the school put Mr Burke on notice of its intention to resume it as soon as he was released.

Mr Burke again turned up for work when Wilson’s Hospital School reopened on January 5 following the Christmas holidays.

An application from the school for the sequestration of Mr Burke’s assets for his continued contempt of court will be ruled on next week.

In court yesterday, Mr Burke claimed to have won his application and queried why Mr Justice Dignam had made an injunction conditional on him complying with orders to stay away from the school.

“You are asking me to agree to something that is flawed, wrong and unconstitutional,” he said.

Mr Justice Dignam replied: “I want to make it clear you didn’t succeed in getting your injunction. It is incorrect to describe you as succeeding in the injunction.”

The judge said Mr Burke had satisfied the test for injunctive relief, but in view of the teacher’s stated intention to continue attending the school he was now exercising his discretion not to grant the injunction sought.

In a written ruling yesterday, the judge said individuals do not get to pick and choose whether they will comply with court orders, the enforceability of which “is a central plank of any system based on the rule of law”.

He also said it was open to Mr Burke to comply with the orders without prejudice to his contention that the orders were wrong, and that Ms McShane’s instruction was unlawful.

Mr Justice Dignam said Mr Burke had established the test for the granting of an interlocutory injunction on two grounds.

These related to his claim that there were findings and conclusions in a report presented to the board of management to which he was not given the opportunity to respond; and that a report written by Ms McShane was read at a board meeting to which he was not invited, depriving him of natural justice and fair procedures.


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