Enoch Burke, his mother and sister Ammi were “conducted” by his brother Isaac in loudly “chanting” during a school board of management disciplinary hearing which ended with a decision to serve a notice of dismissal on Mr Burke, the High Court has been told.
The chants included: “Where is John Rogers?” [chair of the board of management of Wilson’s Hospital School who was ill when the disciplinary hearing was held on January 19th last], said Freda Malone, a guidance counsellor and member of the board.
All four Burkes were standing so close to the desk where members of the board sat that, at one point, Ammi Burke’s hair “whipped me in the face”, she said.
“Isaac was trying to conduct them so they would shout together in time, they would shout things like, ‘who is this woman’, about me..’where is John Rogers’..”, she said. “It was absurd.”
Asked about claims by Enoch Burke that he was unable to hear anything at the meeting, Ms Malone said: “If he could not hear, it was because his own family was screaming so loudly.”
Ms Malone was one of four witnesses for the school in its action against Mr Burke over whether it wrongfully placed him on paid administrative leave in August 2022 pending a disciplinary process.
The process was initiated after he publicly interrupted a school religious service in June 2022 to ask the then principal, Niamh McShane, to withdraw her request to staff to address a transitioning student by their preferred name and using the pronoun they.
Mr Burke was imprisoned from September 2022 for 108 days for contempt over failure to obey court orders not to attend at the school after being put on administrative leave. Fines of €700 daily have been imposed on him since January 27th over his continued attendance.
Mr Justice Alexander Owens will hear submissions in the case on Friday after which he is expected to reserve his judgment.
In exchanges on Thursday, the judge said there was an issue, if he decided Mr Burke had not been properly suspended, whether that meant he was not trespassing on the school property. Alex White SC, for the school, said its case was Mr Burke was properly suspended and is trespassing.
Mr Burke has not participated in the case since being found in “obvious” contempt of court on the opening day on Tuesday because of his conduct. Mr Burke made serious allegations concerning discovery issues and persisted with interruptions and trying to make more submissions over some two hours after the judge ruled there was no evidence to support his allegations.
The judge directed Mr Burke could not physically participate unless he agreed to obey the court’s rulings but could participate via remote link.
Mr Burke has not attended court since and it is unclear whether he has joined by remote link. He had subpoenaed three senior Church of Ireland clerics to testify but has not called them so far.
In evidence on Thursday, school deputy principal John Galligan said Mr Burke “suddenly erupted” at a school staff meeting on May 10th 2022, two days after Ms McShane’s request concerning addressing the transitioning student. Mr Burke said he could not sit there any longer and had to ask Ms McShane to withdraw her “demand”. Ms McShane “very calmly” asked Mr Burke to stop, saying the meeting was not the place to discuss the matter, but Mr Burke “went on about transgenderism” for about five to eight minutes and challenged the school chaplain whether the request was in line with his religious beliefs.
At a meeting on May 18th to discuss what had happened at the staff meeting. Mr Burke spoke about his religious beliefs and opposition to “transgenderism” and demanded Ms McShane withdraw her May 8th “demand”, Mr Galligan said. She replied it was a “respectful request, not a demand” and asked Mr Burke how he would treat a transitioning student if he had to take a class which contained a transitioning student or deal with a roll call. He would not answer her question directly and kept repeating he was “a professional” and his professionalism was not in question.
“We were none the wiser how he would deal with that situation if it arose,” Mr Galligan said.
Mr Galligan said he attended a board of management meeting on August 15th, 2022 when the chairman, Mr Rogers, read from a report concerning Mr Burke prepared by Ms McShane under stage four of a disciplinary process. The content of the report was not discussed but a meeting was arranged for August 22nd to consider whether Mr Burke should be placed on paid administrative leave, he said.
Mr Burke attended that meeting, held at the school, with his sister Ammi. Mr Burke raised many issues about the wording of the circular governing the disciplinary process but had not directly addressed why he should not be placed on administrative leave, Mr Galligan said.
The court was told Mr Burke has said he never got a chance to complete his submissions to the board, the meeting was conducted in a “haphazard” manner and ended with the chairperson walking out of the room. Mr Burke has said he told the meeting what was being proposed was extremely serious, would put a significant blemish on his good name and Mr Rogers “ordered” him multiple times to take the administrative leave.
Mr Galligan agreed Mr Rogers had said words to Mr Burke along the lines this was just an initial meeting, take your administrative leave and everyone needed “some leeway”.
Mr Rogers adjourned the meeting after 30-40 minutes because the Burkes were “going on and on” and it was “getting nowhere, absolutely nowhere”, he said. He did not remember the chairperson saying it was “over for you”. He agreed the Burkes were escorted off the school premises after the meeting adjourned.
Members of the board were “in shock”, it was the first time some had met Mr Burke and his sister, he said. The board meeting was reconvened after a break without the Burkes and it was ultimately decided to place Mr Burke on administrative leave.
There was a health and safety concern about what may happen when children were present when school resumed in September, Mr Galligan said. The concern was whether children, particularly first year students, may witness interruption and protest.