Teacher Enoch Burke has refused a judge’s offer to restrain a school’s disciplinary hearing proceeding against him on condition he complies with court orders to stay away from the school. His refusal means the hearing will proceed on Thursday.
Mr Justice Conor Dignam had ruled on Tuesday afternoon Mr Burke had established a strong case for the injunctions restraining the hearing but said his continuing attendance at Wilson’s Hospital School tipped the balance against granting them.
He adjourned a final decision until Wednesday morning to allow Mr Burke an opportunity to agree to comply with the orders to stay away from the school.
Mr Burke, representing himself and accompanied by his mother Martina, sister Ammi and a brother, on Wednesday said he had won his injunctions application and had made a strong case that would succeed at trial proving the disciplinary process “has gone irremediably wrong”.
He said a condition of the injunction is to obey court orders made last August and September which are “flawed and fundamentally wrong and unconstitutional”. They made it impossible for him to avail of an injunction that he deserved.
He said he was suspended because he refused to comply with a “demand” from the principal – to address transitioning student by their chosen name and using the pronoun “they” - and because he expressed his religious belief on transgenderism.
He said there was no published record of the judgment last August of Ms Justice Siobhán Stack and that the ruling last September – which restrained him attending at the school - by another judge, Mr Justice Max Barrett, took five minutes, quicker than it would take “to get a chicken roll in a Spar”.
The court was asking him to accept those decisions which are “fundamentally wrong”.
In contrast, the judgment of Mr Dignam on his injunctions application was 38 pages long and he deliberated on the serious questions of law raised, he said.
Having established he had a serious case, the judge had made the injunction dependent on his accepting orders that were an “abomination”, he said. It was “an outright lie” to say the case was not about transgenderism, he said.
Barrister Rosemary Mallon, for the school, said Mr Burke had made his position clear.
Mr Justice Dignam ruled, in the circumstances, he would formally refuse the injunctions application. He adjourned costs issues for three weeks.
The judge was told the disciplinary hearing will proceed tomorrow and the former school principal, whose report grounded the disciplinary process, will be in attendance. The hearing is due to take place at a hotel in Mullingar.
Mr Burke had sought the injunctions halting any further steps in the disciplinary process pending a full hearing of the legal dispute between him and the school.
He remains suspended on paid administrative leave pending the process, initiated on foot of the August 2022 report prepared by then school principal Niamh McShane.
It concerned Mr Burke’s emailed objection to the principal’s direction of May 2022 to teachers to address a transitioning student by their chosen name and using the pronouns “they/them” and his publicly voiced opposition to that direction at a school event in June 2022.
Mr Burke was jailed for contempt in early September because he continued to attend at the school despite orders restraining him doing so. He was released on an open-ended basis on December 21st last, after 108 days, without having purged his contempt.
Because he again attended the school on January 5th last as pupils returned after the Christmas holidays, the school has applied for orders imposing fines on him or sequestering – temporarily detain – his assets. That application, which Mr Burke strongly opposed, will be ruled on next week.
In his ruling on Tuesday on Mr Burke’s injunction application, Mr Justice Dignam held Mr Burke had met the first test for an injunction in that he had made out a strong case likely to succeed at the full trial arising from the aspects of the school’s conduct of the disciplinary process.
The test was met on two grounds, he held. The first was that a “flawed” August 2022 report by the then school principal grounding the disciplinary process contained findings and conclusions without giving him an opportunity to respond, thereby depriving him of natural justice and fair procedures.
The second ground was that the report was read and discussed at a board of management meeting on August 15th 2022 attended by the principal to which Mr Burke was not invited, thereby depriving him of natural justice and fair procedures.
He was not satisfied Mr Burke had made out a strong case the disciplinary process had gone “irremediably wrong” in light of those issues but said he had a strong case there was a risk the process had gone irremediably wrong. That matter would be decided at the full trial, he said.
However, the judge went on to find the balance lay against granting the injunction because Mr Burke’s conduct to date amounted to him coming to the court “with unclean hands” and his stated intention to continue attending the school amounted to him “not doing equity”.
Mr Burke’s explanation that he is not complying with the orders because he considers them manifestly unconstitutional and wrong has no merit as an explanation for refusing to comply with orders in a system based on the rule of law, he said.
The judge agreed with a finding of his colleague, Mr Justice Brian O’Moore, that the orders did not compromise Mr Burke’s religious beliefs. Our system provided he must comply with orders pending determination of his appeal against them, he held.