A judge has ordered that a teacher who objects to addressing a student with the pronoun “they” be arrested by gardaí and brought before the High Court to answer for his alleged failure to comply with a temporary injunction. The court order was to prevent teacher Enoch Burke from attending or teaching at the secondary school where he is employed.
On Friday morning Ms Justice Miriam O’Regan granted Wilson’s Hospital School an order allowing the gardaí to detain Mr Burke and bring him before the court to answer his alleged contempt.
The court made the order after being told that in breach of both the terms of his paid suspension and the temporary injunction Mr Burke was currently “sitting in an empty classroom” in the Co Westmeath-based school.
The school, after obtaining the interim injunction earlier this week, brought a motion seeking Mr Burke’s attachment and possible committal to prison before the High Court on Thursday.
When the matter was called on before Ms Justice O’Regan on Friday morning Mr Burke was not present nor legally represented in court.
The board, represented by barrister Rosemary Mallon instructed by Ian O’Herlihy of Mason Hayes and Curran solicitors, claims that despite being served with and being made aware of the making of interim injunction Mr Burke has continued to attend at the school.
Counsel said her client remains very concerned about the defendant’s refusal to abide by the injunction and the terms of his suspension.
It claims his actions may be disruptive to the school’s students at the beginning of the new academic year.
Counsel said Mr Burke had also been made aware of the motion that could result in his incarceration.
Counsel said that despite this Mr Burke remains “knowingly and purposely in breach of the court’s order”.
‘Here to work’
The court was told that Mr Burke believes that his suspension is “unlawful” and when approached by senior staff at the school his reply has been that he is “here to work”.
Counsel said the school’s sole objective from bringing the proceedings is to prevent any further disruption to students at the school. Counsel said the school had not taken this action lightly and had come to court as a “last resort”.
Given Mr Burke’s continued actions, it had been left with “no choice” other than to bring the motion seeking his attachment and possible committal to prison.
Ms Justice O’Regan granted the motion and directed that An Garda Síochána be made aware of the making of the order for Mr Burke’s attachment.
The judge initially said it was a matter for the Garda as to when it would be possible to arrest Mr Burke and bring him before the court.
However, when the matter was briefly mentioned before the High Court after lunch the court was told that while the gardaí had been contacted about the matter, the order had not yet been perfected.
Counsel said while a lot of work was being done, until that process has been completed the gardaí were not in a position to detain Mr Burke.
Mr Burke had been made aware of the court’s decision to grant the order for his arrest, counsel added.
In light of that information the judge agreed with counsel that the case should be adjourned to Monday’s vacation sitting of the High Court.
Mr Burke will now have to answer the school board’s claim that he is in contempt of the court’s order. If he continues to fail to comply with the order, he faces the prospect of being jailed at Mountjoy Prison.
Mr Burke was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a disciplinary process commenced by the school, where he has been employed for several years, in mid-August.
On Tuesday the school board of management secured a temporary, ex-parte High Court order against Mr Burke preventing him from attending or teaching any classes at the school.
The order was obtained because the board claims Mr Burke was not abiding by the terms of his suspension, which it is alleged he believes is unlawful, by attending at the school.
The court also heard that a substitute teacher had been hired to teach his classes while he remains suspended.
The temporary injunction is to remain in place until the matter returned before the High Court next week.
The school, in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath, is the Church of Ireland’s diocesan school for Meath and Kildare. The school says Mr Burke, originally from Co Mayo, has not been sanctioned and that no finding has been made against him by the school.
The school claims that despite its decision to suspend him, made at what counsel said was “a difficult meeting” he attended with his sister Ammi earlier this month, he has continued to attend at the school’s campus.
Mr Burke, the court heard, has described his suspension as being unreasonable, unjust and unlawful.
The disciplinary process arose after the teacher objected to a request by the school, based on a request from a student and their parents, earlier this year to address a student, who wishes to transition, by a different name and to use the pronoun ‘they’.
Mr Burke, it is claimed, objected to this, questioned the school’s position and has alleged that a belief system is being forced on students.
He also claims the school’s request amounts to a breach of constitutional rights, the High Court heard.
In correspondence to Mr Burke the school denied that anyone is being ‘forced’ to do anything.
The school said it is focusing on the needs and welfare of its students and is affirming its policy in accordance with the 2000 Equal Status Act of not discriminating against any student.
It says it has acknowledged Mr Burke’s religious beliefs but expects him to communicate with the student in accordance with the student and their parents’ wishes.
The school claims that last June a service and dinner was held to mark its 260th anniversary. It was attended by clergy, staff, past and present pupils, parents and board members.
It is claimed that Mr Burke interrupted the service and said the school’s principal, Niamh McShane, should withdraw the earlier demand regarding the transitioning of the student.
It is also claimed he said he could not agree with transgenderism, and said it went against the school’s ethos and the teaching of the Church of Ireland.
The school claims that after he spoke members of the congregation and students walked out of the school chapel where the service was being conducted.
It is claimed that at the follow-up dinner Mr Burke did not sit at any table.
After the meal he is alleged to have approached the principal, and again asked her to withdraw the request regarding the student.
The school claims that she said she would speak to Mr Burke at an appropriate time and place, and walked away from him. It is claimed that he continued to follow her and questioned her loudly.
Other people stood between them to prevent the continuation of his questioning, it is further claimed.
Arising from Mr Burke’s alleged conduct, a disciplinary process was commenced and considered by the board, resulting in a decision to place him on administrative leave pending the outcome of the process.
The next stage of the disciplinary process is due to take place in mid-September.