Subscriber OnlyCrime & LawAnalysis

Battle between Enoch Burke and Wilson’s Hospital School is far from over

School’s legal costs could exceed €500,000 after dispute finally goes to trial in High Court

The legal battle between teacher Enoch Burke and the Co Westmeath school that wants him dismissed is far from over and could continue for some time on at least two fronts.

Legal sources have estimated the costs incurred by Wilson’s Hospital School in dealing with various pre-trial applications since last August is now into six figures and, after the full trial is heard, could be €500,000 or more.

While some costs orders have been obtained by the school against Burke, who is representing himself, there is no clarity concerning whether he has sufficient assets to pay those. It is understood that the school is insured in relation to the litigation costs.

Separately, Burke has been fined €700 daily since January 27th until he purges his contempt of court orders restraining him attending at the school. He again attended at the school on Wednesday, when the total fines stood at €28,700.


Burke has appealed against a notice of dismissal served on him on January 20th by the school’s board of management. That notice arose from disciplinary proceedings initiated last August on foot of a report by the then school principal concerning, among other matters, Burke’s publicly voiced opposition at a school event last June to a request from the principal asking teachers to address a transitioning student, in line with the wish of the student and their parents, by their preferred name and using the pronouns “they/them”.

The January notice provided for Burke’s dismissal is to take effect from April 21st, but that will await the outcome of his appeal before an independent panel, which is not expected to be ready for hearing until late April.

The full trial of the dispute between him and the school, which raises issues including the conduct of the disciplinary process and Burke’s constitutional rights, has yet to get a hearing date in the High Court.

Mr Justice Brian O’Moore, who is case managing that litigation, has said the trial could be held on April 21st, or possibly before this court term ends on March 31st, if all the judge’s directions for progressing it are complied with.

In a directions ruling last month, Mr Justice O’Moore warned that the trial judge will decide whether Burke, “as a person in continuing contempt of court”, was in a position to seek any orders from the court to protect his interests.

The judge has listed the trial for four days. While noting Burke had said he believed it would take two days, the judge said, “given the dogged nature of every application so far in this action”, insofar as he knew of them, and the potential range of issues in the case, the two-day estimate was “unrealistically optimistic”.

Before the trial, the judge is expected to list the case to hear from the sides about Burke’s continued attendance at the school. The judge is also expected to make costs orders in relation to two previous pre-trial applications which were determined against Burke.

The teacher had opposed the High Court trial going ahead until his appeal to the Court of Appeal against various injunctions of August and September last restraining his attendance at the school was decided. This week, the three-judge Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed that appeal amid uproar after Burke and some members of his family objected to aspects of the judgment.

Prior to that judgment, Burke had told the High Court, once the appeal court had ruled, he wanted the “earliest possible” date for the trial of the main action. He said his counterclaim to the school’s case sought orders that concerned the legality of his dismissal.

Whatever the outcomes of Burke’s appeal against the dismissal notice or the full High Court case, both may be subject to appeal. The decision of the independent panel, if unfavourable to Burke, can be appealed to the Workplace Relations Commission and decisions of the commission are themselves also subject to appeal.

The outcome of the High Court trial may also be appealed to the Court of Appeal and/or possibly to the Supreme Court.

Separately, Burke could ask the Supreme Court to hear a further appeal against the Court of Appeal’s judgment this week rejecting his bid to overturn the injunctions. If he pursues that option, a panel of Supreme Court judges would determine whether his case meets the criteria for such an appeal. The judges must be satisfied the decision at issue involves a matter of general public importance or that an appeal is necessary in the interests of justice.

All of this suggests that there is no end in sight to the dispute between Burke and the school where he taught for four years until the events of last summer.

Irrespective of how the litigation develops, court sources say they believe every effort will be made to prevent any repeat of the unprecedented and chaotic scenes in the Court of Appeal this week when Burke and members of his family loudly interrupted the delivery of the judgments dismissing his appeal.

An Garda Siochána handles security in the courts and Garda reinforcements were on hand on Tuesday when the situation deteriorated. More gardaí were on standby in the nearby Bridewell Garda station if required.

“Because of the constitutional requirement of access to the courts, there are limits to what can be done when it comes to controlling the behaviour of litigants,” a court source said. “But I’m confident there will be an across-the-board determination to do whatever can be done to avoid scenes like we witnessed this week.”