Enoch Burke was formally dismissed by Wilson’s Hospital School on Friday afternoon at 3.30pm, but this is unlikely to be the end of the road of his bid to resume his teaching post.
Under school disciplinary procedures Mr Burke is entitled to appeal the outcome of the school disciplinary hearing within 10 working days. If he does so it will trigger the establishment of a disciplinary appeal panel which includes an independent chair from a panel nominated by the Minister for Education.
In addition there are likely to be other legal routes open to Mr Burke, whose family is intimately acquainted with the workings of the courts following a series of separate appeal cases involving other family members in recent years.
Unlike the vast majority of teacher disciplinary issues, this one has played out in the full glare of the public eye. The controversy initially arose in May 2022 when the school’s then principal asked, following a meeting with a student and their parents, that teachers address a transgender student by a new name and with the pronoun “they”. Mr Burke refused and claimed, in an email, that students were being “forced” to accept this position, and later said it amounted to an “abuse of children”.
The principal informed Mr Burke that the ethos of the school was inclusive and the right of individuals to be called by a name of their choosing and in accordance with their preferred gender was a recognised right set out in the Equal Status Act.
The school also claimed that in June Mr Burke interrupted a school anniversary chapel service, saying the principal should withdraw her instruction regarding how to address the student.
The school further asserted that,at a dinner later that day he approached the principal and again asked her to withdraw the request. The school stated that the principal told Mr Burke that she would speak to him at an appropriate time and walked away, but Mr Burke followed her and continued to question her loudly, and that other people in attendance stood between them to bring an end to the confrontation.
Countering this, Mr Burke said he only approached the principal once after the meal and then left. The principal filed a report to the school’s board of management expressing “serious concerns” over his conduct and how he might act in the future. This led to Mr Burke’s suspension, pending the outcome of the disciplinary meeting which was held earlier this week.
What propelled the case into the full glare of the media was his jailing for contempt of court in early September because he continued to attend the school despite orders restraining him from doing so. He was eventually released on an open-ended basis on December 21st last, without having purged his contempt.
After he again attended the school on January 5th following the Christmas holidays, the school applied for orders imposing fines on Mr Burke or temporarily detaining his assets.
Legal counsel for the school told the High Court last week that the school had a genuine concern about interactions and disruptions that could occur as a result of Mr Burke’s continued attendance. The school said it was seeking sequestration of his assets or to have him fined. It did not favour him being again committed to prison as it was undesirable to commit a person who had no intention of obeying a court order.
Mr Burke’s – whose teacher’s salary is €48,000 – strongly opposed the application, describing it as a “nefarious proposition”. The orders restraining his attendance at the school were manifestly unlawful and unconstitutional, and breached his right to freedom of religious belief, he argued.
He said he had never been in trouble with the law but had been “dragged in here as a criminal because I expressed my religious belief on transgenderism”.
The High Court is due to deliver its decision on the fine application next week.