Enoch Burke says he is at risk of ‘irreparable harm’ if school disciplinary process goes ahead

Heated exchanges involving the teacher’s family members break out in court as he applies for injunction against employer

Teacher Enoch Burke has argued that unless a disciplinary process initiated by his school employer against him is restrained by injunction, he is at “serious risk” of injustice and “irreparable harm”.

Mr Burke submitted to the High Court on Wednesday that the process being pursued by Wilson’s Hospital secondary school in Co Westmeath is unlawful, breaches his constitutional rights, including to freedom of religious belief, and his rights to natural justice and fair procedures.

Mr Burke said John Rogers, the chair of the school board of management, had “lied under oath” in stating, in an affidavit of January 9th, that the report by the then school principal, Niamh McShane, grounding the disciplinary process against him was not discussed when it was provided to a meeting of the school board of management on August 15th, 2022.

Mr Burke was not invited to that August 15th meeting. He said the minutes of a board meeting of August 22nd, to which he was invited, recorded that Mr Rogers, in response to questions from Mr Burke, had said the report was discussed at the August 15th meeting.


In raised tones, Mr Burke said Mr Rogers’ claim that the report was not discussed at the board meeting was “a lie under oath”.

Mr Burke said it was “extraordinary” that the court proposed to let the matter “stew” ,and repeatedly asked what “the consequences of lying under oath” were

Having made those submissions just before 4pm on Wednesday, there were heated exchanges between the court and Mr Burke, his mother Martina and his sister Ammi, when Mr Justice Conor Dignam said the court had to rise at 4pm.

The judge said the full affidavits from Mr Rogers would have to be read to the court on Thursday.

Mr Burke said it was “extraordinary” that the court proposed to let the matter “stew” ,and repeatedly asked what “the consequences of lying under oath” were.

His mother Martina and sister Ammi also interrupted a number of times, complaining the case was being adjourned at “a critical juncture”.

The judge, noting the courts normally adjourn at 4pm, described as “outrageous” suggestions he was adjourning to facilitate the school, and said he will hear all of the application before making any determination and will resume the case on Thursday.

Mr Burke is seeking an injunction restraining the school proceeding disciplinary meeting next week and any further steps in the disciplinary process pending the full hearing of the dispute between him and the school.

A separation motion by the school, seeking sequestration or temporary possession of his assets over contempt of an order not to attend at the school, has been adjourned to next Tuesday.

The order restraining Mr Burke’s attendance was granted last September but, when he continued to attend, he was jailed for contempt on September 5th last. He was released on an open-ended basis on December 21st, after 108 days.

When releasing him, Mr Justice Brian O’Moore said it was difficult to avoid the conclusion Mr Burke was “exploiting his imprisonment for his own ends”. The judge ordered his release on the basis that the school could come back to the court to seek his attachment and committal to prison, sequestration of his assets or other appropriate measure if he did not comply with any court order.

On Tuesday, barrister Rosemary Mallon, for Wilson’s Hospital, said it was seeking sequestration of his assets because Mr Burke returned to the school when the term resumed on January 5th.

When that and Mr Burke’s injunction application came before Mr Justice O’Moore on Wednesday, Mr Burke told the judge it was his Christian “duty” to attend at the school.

The judge said it seemed Mr Burke was not complying with the court order, and there was an issue whether a person in breach of an order can seek court assistance to get an order to prevent the school acting in a particular way. He told Mr Burke he was “simply marking your card”, and that this might be “of some consequence” in terms of the ongoing litigation.

The judge told Mr Burke he was “simply marking your card”, and that this might be “of some consequence” in terms of the ongoing litigation

At 2pm on Wednesday, Mr Justice Dignam began hearing Mr Burke’s injunction application.

Mr Burke said the then school principal’s August report grounding the disciplinary process stated he had objected to her direction via an email last May to staff to address a transitioning student by their chosen name and using the pronouns they/them, and referenced his publicly expressed objection to transgenderism at a school event last June.

He said the May email was “not a legitimate instruction to staff”, and referred to a “recognised” right of persons to be called a name of their choosing and pronoun when the Equal Status Act “confers no such right”.

He said Christian beliefs on gender are informed by the scriptures, and he did not accept “transgender ideology”. If he obeyed the principal’s direction, he would be obliged to accept the student in question is no longer a male, “and this I could not do”.

He said he has a strong case likely to succeed at the full hearing of the dispute on seven grounds, including that the disciplinary process breaches his rights, that there was no misconduct, and that there was no consideration by the school of his unblemished employment record over four years or of his good name and employment prospects.

The report grounding the process, Mr Burke submitted, made findings and described facts without giving him an opportunity to respond and was read and discussed before a board meeting to which he was not invited and which had a predetermined outcome.

The hearing continues on Thursday.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times