Enoch Burke jailed for second time for continuing to turn up at school – The Irish Times
A High Court judge has ordered that teacher Enoch Burke be returned to prison due to his ongoing refusal to stay away from Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath.
Mr Burke was previously dismissed by the school for alleged gross misconduct and has been embroiled in a long-running legal battle with his former employer.
The decision to suspend the Co Mayo teacher followed his objection to former principal Niamh McShane’s direction in May of last year for teachers to address a transitioning student by their chosen name, and his publicly voiced opposition to that direction at a school event in June 2022.
The school’s board of management had asked the court for orders seeking Mr Burke’s attachment and committal to prison over his refusal to comply with a permanent injunction granted by Mr Justice Alexander Owens earlier this year.
In a ruling late on Friday yesterday Mr Justice Mark Heslin said that there “was no dispute” that Mr Burke had “flagrantly breached” the orders to stay away from the school, and ordered that he be committed to prison “indefinitely,” until he agrees to stay away from the school.
The judge asked Mr Burke three times if he was prepared to give an undertaking in the terms of the order against him.
On each occasion Mr Burke, accompanied in court by members of his family, remained silent.
The matter is to be reviewed before the court in early October. However the judge stressed that Mr Burke could secure his release from prison at any time, by agreeing to stay away from the school.
Mr Justice Heslin was interrupted on several occasions by members of the Burke family. Gardaí were asked to intervene and had to physically remove Enoch’s father Sean Burke and brother Isaac Burke from the courtroom.
Represented by Alex White SC and Rosemary Mallon BL the board said that Mr Burke had attended at Wilson’s Hospital campus every day since the new school year commenced in late August.
Representing himself Mr Burke opposed the application and argued that it was in breach of his constitutional rights to religious freedom and expression.
He had claimed that Mr Justice Owen’s order was invalid, and that the court’s “hands would be dripping with blood” if it decided to hear the committal application.
He again claimed that the board’s actions against him arise out of his opposition to “go along with transgenderism” something he said was “damaging to children”.
The board denies that claim.
Mr Burke’s presence at the school “is causing severe disruption for staff and students,” counsel said. A large part of school principal Mr Frank Milling’s and his staff’s working day is taken up dealing with Mr Burke’s presence at Wilson’s Hospital, counsel said.
However Mr Burke said that every day since last January, following his re-attendance at the school following his release from prison, he has received “overwhelming support from parents, students and staff at the school”.
He said he utterly rejected claims made by Mr Milling and chairman of the board John Rogers that “my presence at my workplace has caused stress disruption, fear or a safety concern at the school.”
He said that at all times “I have conducted myself in a clam measured, reasonable and respectful manner in my conduct at the school and my interaction with others at the school.”
He said that he only speaks to students after they speak to him.
He claims parents and students have shaken his hand and last May before the end of the school year, half the Leaving Cert class of 2023 were “begging me to sign their school shirts and blouses” as well as asking for autographs and posing for pictures.
In his ruling the judge rejected all of Mr Burke’s arguments and said that his in his submissions he had raised issues that were not relevant to the application before the court.
Mr Burke, he said was clearly in flagrant breach of court orders, adding that such orders are something that have to be obeyed.
Mr Burke, he added, could not be treated by anybody else and it was an “insult” to all law-abiding citizens to allow somebody breach orders of the court.
Following his suspension in August 2022 Mr Burke was sued by the school over his failure to comply with a court order requiring him to stay away from the school. That resulted in his incarceration in Mountjoy Prison for several months.
He was released shortly before Christmas, without purging his contempt.
He again started attending at the school after the holidays, and the High Court imposed a daily fine of €700 on Mr Burke.
Mr Burke has also brought a challenge against the three-person panel appointed to hear his appeal against his dismissal from his teaching position.
Judgement is awaited in those separate proceedings against the panel.