Wilson’s Hospital secondary school has told the High Court that it wishes to correct certain statements made in a document it is relying on as part of its ongoing legal action against teacher Enoch Burke.
The High Court ruled on Thursday that Mr Burke had until 2pm on Friday to purge his contempt of court orders to stay away from the Co Westmeath school or he would be fined €700 daily.
Wilson’s Hospital School had applied for sequestration, temporary detention, of Mr Burke’s assets, or to have him fined, after he resumed attending at the school in Multyfarnham on January 5th last.
The school contended Mr Burke was in breach of court orders, made last September, restraining his attendance of the school pending a disciplinary process initiated in August 2022.
That process was grounded on a report by then school principal Niamh McShane which referred to Mr Burke’s opposition to her direction requesting teachers to address a transitioning pupil by their chosen named and using the pronoun “they”. The report also addressed Mr Burke’s behaviour at a school event in June 2022 where he publicly raised issues with Ms McShane about her direction.
The school suspended Mr Burke, and following a disciplinary process purportedly dismissed him due to the German and history teacher’s alleged misconduct.
In a brief application before Mr Justice Conor Dignam at the High Court on Friday afternoon, Alex White SC with Rosemary Mallon BL for the school said two factual inaccuracies in documents sworn on behalf of the school had come to light since Thursday evening.
The inaccuracies were contained in a statement supporting the school’s case against Mr Burke that was sworn by the chairman of the school’s board of management, John Rogers.
While these matters needed to be addressed by way of a corrective affidavit, counsel said the issues in question did not affect any of the orders previously granted by the court, including last September’s injunction requiring Mr Burke to stay away and not attempt to teach at the Co Westmeath school.
Mr Burke was not present in court on Friday.
He was not made aware of the school’s application in advance, counsel said.
Counsel said the matters that needed to be addressed by the school were that it had been previously stated that a meeting last year at the school concerning the wishes of a student who wished to transition had been attended by that student’s parents, where a request was made that the student be referred to by a different pronoun and name than before.
This is incorrect counsel said, as the meeting had been attended by only one of the student’s parents.
In addition, counsel said it had been stated that the meeting had also been attended by the school’s then principal Niamh McShane. This was also inaccurate.
Counsel said two other staff members were present for the duration of that meeting while the principal, who was aware of the meeting, was in attendance for only a brief period.
However, counsel said the school would fully inform Mr Burke of its application to correct the inaccuracies before the matter returned before the court.
Mr Justice Dignam, who said it was right that the school seek to correct these errors in the manner proposed, adjourned the application to Tuesday.
The school’s application came as the deadline given to Mr Burke by Mr Justice Brian O’Moore to purge his contempt or face being fined €700 for every day he refuses to comply with the court order to stay away from the school passed.
Mr Burke, who attended at the school on Friday morning, did not make any formal contact with the court indicating he would comply.
In his judgment on Thursday, Mr Justice O’Moore said Mr Burke, who was purportedly dismissed from the school last week following a disciplinary hearing, had until Friday afternoon to decide if he wished to comply with the order or be fined.
The judge said the daily fine was “the correct response” to Mr Burke’s ongoing contempt.
Mr Burke, he said, had “made it plain that he will continue to disobey the order” made by the High Court last September.
The level of the fine “should persuade Mr Burke to end his utterly pointless attendance at a school that does not want him at its property”, the judge said.
If the fine does not have the desired effect, it can always be increased, the judge added.
The judge agreed with the school that returning Mr Burke to prison was “not immediately attractive”.
The court also said it did not believe the sequestration of Mr Burke’s assets would result in the teacher’s compliance with the court’s order.
Mr Burke was jailed for 108 days last September arising out of his failure to stay away from the school, before being released without purging his contempt before Christmas.
Wilson’s Hospital had returned to court seeking orders to either sequestering or removing Mr Burke’s assets or fine him over his repeated refusal to comply with the order since the start of the new school term on January 5th last.
Mr Burke had opposed the school’s application, claiming he has done nothing wrong, and says the granting of such a “preposterous” and manifestly flawed order against him would breach his constitutional rights.
He has also criticised the school’s decision to instigate the disciplinary proceedings against him, which he claims centres on the school’s request to call a student by a different name, and as a “they,” which he said amounts to him participating in transgenderism.
He said the orders against him were an attempt to criminalise his religious beliefs including his opposition to transgenderism.
The contempt of court ruling and the issue of legal costs in the dispute are due to be reviewed by the court on February 10th next.
Mr Burke’s appeal against various High Court decisions made against him is due to be heard by the Court of Appeal next month.