Teacher Enoch Burke fails to get order to be freed from prison and resume teaching at Co Westmeath school

Several people in court shouted at the judge and one man described her decision as ‘a disgrace’ at Wednesday’s High Court hearing

Teacher Enoch Burke has been refused a High Court injunction which would have paved the way for his release from Mountjoy Prison and his return to a school which has placed him on paid suspension pending a disciplinary process.

Ms Justice Eileen Roberts said she was satisfied Mr Burke had not made out a strong case for the orders sought and that the balance of convenience was against granting them.

Three of the injunctions sought, which aimed to restrain the disciplinary process against him, did not need to be addressed now in light of Wilson Hospital School’s undertaking not to take further steps in that process without giving three days notice to Mr Burke of any such steps, she ruled.

His complaints about the legality of the decisions to put him on paid administrative leave and to invoke the disciplinary process could not be addressed at an injunctions hearing and would be decided at the full hearing of the proceedings between him and the school, she said.


What he was effectively seeking in the fourth injunction application was a mandatory order which would restrain the school continuing his paid administrative leave, pending a disciplinary process, and pave the way for his return to the school, she said.

She had to balance the school’s need to function without further disruption to its pupils and its obligations to all students, including a child subject of a direction by the principal to all staff. That direction, which Mr Burke has said was contrary to his Christian beliefs and his opposition to transgenderism, was to address the student, who is transitioning, by their preferred name and the pronoun “they”.

The judge said Mr Burke is entitled to hold his religious beliefs, which she had no doubt were genuine, but the decision by the school to place him on paid administrative leave was not an attack on those beliefs.

She also told Mr Burke it was important he not conflate his right to religious belief with the basis for the court proceedings.

After her decision, several people in court shouted at the judge, one man described her decision as “a disgrace” and several shouted support for Mr Burke.

Mr Burke was committed to Mountjoy Prison last week for contempt of a court order not to attend at the school but was produced in court on Wednesday to make his application.

His parents, sister Ammi and brother Isaac were in court as were several onlookers, including supporters of Mr Burke and a man wearing a T-shirt with the slogan: ‘Freemasonry is the virus’.

Mr Burke argued he had a “strong” case for the injunctions, on grounds including the process breaches his constitutional right to free profession of religious belief, had gone “irredeemably wrong” and his suspension is “legally unsustainable”.

He said a report compiled last August by Niamh McShane, the then principal of the school, which invoked the disciplinary process, goes far beyond evidence gathering and contains findings “deeply prejudicial” to him with the effect he will not get a fair hearing in the process.

He said he had asked a “meek and milk” question at a school event last June about the principal’s direction to staff to refer to a transitioning student by their preferred name and as “they” but the August report presented his interaction with the principal in a way that suggested he was “some sort of monster”.

Rosemary Mallon, barrister for the school, urged the court to refuse the injunctions, saying there was no basis for them.

Mr Burke was effectively seeking to appeal to the High Court against a High Court order, “which could not be done”, and to be freed from prison without purging his contempt and to resume teaching in breach of a court order and his paid suspension, she said.

The legality of the suspension is a matter to be determined at a full hearing of the school’s proceedings against Mr Burke, not at this injunctions hearing, she said.

The disciplinary process is not complete and conclusions have not been reached despite claims by Mr Burke to the contrary, she added.

He had made clear, if he gets the orders, he will be back in school immediately and this was of “grave concern” to the board of management. Mr Burke was not prejudiced if the injunctions were refused because he continues to be paid and the fact of his continued imprisonment is down to him refusing to purge his contempt, counsel added.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times