A review by a High Court judge of daily fines of €700 imposed last month on dismissed schoolteacher Enoch Burke has been deferred.
Mr Justice Brian O’Moore had directed the fines to be imposed on a daily basis from January 27th until Mr Burke purged his contempt of court orders made in September last restraining him attending at Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath.
If Mr Burke did not purge his contempt, the fines might be increased, the judge said. He listed the matter for review on February 10th but, due to pressures on court lists, the review has been deferred.
Fines hit €9,800
Mr Burke has continued to attend at the school on several dates and the fines, payable through the courts accounting system, had amounted on Thursday to some €9,800. The court is expected to be informed at the forthcoming review whether or not Mr Burke has made any payment.
The September orders restraining Mr Burke’s attendance at the school were made pending a disciplinary process initiated by the school board of management arising from his publicly voiced opposition at a school event in June 2022 to the then school principal’s direction to teachers to refer to a transitioning student by their chosen name and using the pronoun “they”.
Mr Burke was placed on paid administrative leave but, when he continued to attend at the school, he was committed to prison for contempt of the court orders. He was released after 108 days without purging his contempt, after Mr Justice O’Moore said he was exploiting his imprisonment for his own ends.
After Mr Burke resumed attending at the school from January 5th, after the Christmas holidays, the school asked the court to fine him or sequester (temporarily detain) his assets. Before the judge ruled on that application, a disciplinary hearing on January 19th resulted in a decision by the board of management that Mr Burke be dismissed.
He continued to attend at the school and Mr Justice O’Moore decided on January 26th to impose fines of €700 daily from the following day.
The review of the fines has been deferred and the parties will be given notice at a later stage of the relisted date.
Separately, Mr Burke’s appeal against various orders made in the dispute between him and the school is listed to open at the Court of Appeal next Thursday, February 16th. Among his grounds of appeal, he contends the orders breach his constitutional rights, including of freedom of expression and freedom to practise religion.
It is rare for the High Court to impose fines over failure to obey a court order but there have been a small number of cases where it has done so. One of the most controversial instances occurred in January 2000 when Mr Justice Diarmuid O’Donovan, since deceased, imposed a fine of €100,000 daily on the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) arising from blockades by farmers of meat processing plants in a dispute over prices.
When blockades continued for five days, the judge said he would increase the fine to €500,000 daily. An emergency meeting of the council of the IFA decided that same evening to lift the blockades.
When increasing the daily fine to €500,000, Mr Justice O’Donovan said he had no intention of imprisoning and making a martyr out of some member of the farming community and would continue imposing fines “until it hurts” and the court order was obeyed.