Enoch Burke is in “egregious disobedience” of a court order not to attend at a Co Westmeath school and must pay €23,800 in fines by March 23rd next, a High Court judge has ruled.
The school may apply to enforce payment of the fines by means such as seeking orders over Mr Burke’s assets, Mr Justice Brian O’Moore said.
He said the €23,800 figure was based on fines of €700 daily imposed from January 27th to March 1st but warned that fines of €700 daily have, and will, continue to accrue until he purges his contempt of court orders not to attend at Wilson’s Hospital School.
In considering whether the daily fine should be increased, the judge said he had concluded there are two possible reasons for Mr Burke’s continuing contempt of the orders.
The first was that the fines are “too low” and the second is that Mr Burke does not really believe they will ever be enforced, he said.
He had decided that the correct approach was “to crystallise” the sums due as of March 1st and to make a court order requiring those to be paid by March 23rd perfected, meaning the school could then take steps to enforce payment.
The clear and obvious steps to enforce payment, including sequestration of Mr Burke’s assets for the purpose of enabling collection of the fines, he said.
The school is at large concerning what steps it wishes to take to enforce the fines, the judge stressed.
Paid administrative leave
He was giving his ruling on whether Mr Burke is in continuing contempt of the orders not to attend at the school. The orders were made in August and September after the school placed Mr Burke on paid administrative leave pending a disciplinary process.
That process arose from his publicly voiced opposition at a school event in June 2022 to a request form the then school principal, Niamh McShane, that teachers address a transitioning student by their preferred name and using the pronouns “they/them”.
He was jailed in September for 108 days for contempt of the orders and released before Christmas without purging his contempt. When he resumed attending at the school after the Christmas holidays, it secured orders requiring him to pay €700 daily in fines from January 27th.
In his ruling on Thursday, Mr Justice O’Moore ruled Mr Burke is in continuing contempt.
He said the evidence was Mr Burke is in continuing and deliberate breach of the orders not to attend at the school and his claim that he was not causing disruption was not consistent, “to put it mildly” with the school’s evidence.
The evidence of the school was that Mr Burke had attended the school every day since January 26th, when the decision to impose fines was made, except at weekends, when the school was not open and when he was in the courts.
Mr Burke did not dispute that attendance and had said that since his release from prison on December 21st last, he had continued to “report for work”.
Mr Burke had argued the contempt orders were unlawful but it is not his role to decide whether court orders are lawful, the judge said.
He also made orders awarding the school its costs of two pre-trial applications in the proceedings against Mr Burke.
He rejected arguments that requiring Mr Burke to pay the costs of his unsuccessful application for a stay on the main hearing of the proceedings pending the outcome of his appeal over the injunctions penalised him for his religious beliefs.
He said Mr Burke had criticised the school’s conduct of the proceedings and had described his own conduct in terms that he had “at all times conducted himself in a proper manner in these proceedings”.
“This self praise beggar’s belief,” the judge said. “There is much to be said about Mr Burke’s behaviour but it may be sufficient to observe that a person who has refused (on utterly spurious grounds) to comply with a court order for some six months has not behaved properly.”
The judge also noted the “baseless traducing”, in some submissions by Mr Burke, of other judges as well as his conduct in disrupting not one but two sittings of the chancery list in February.
He rejected arguments by Mr Burke that some admitted errors in evidence provided by the school board of management chairman, John Rogers justified the court refusing to award the school its costs of the two motions at issue.
Mr Rogers’ evidence never featured in those motions, he noted. Any infirmity in the evidence of Mr Rogers will be put to him at the main trial, in the event that Mr Rogers gives evidence, he added.
The judge noted Mr Burke had yesterday emailed an “unusual” letter to the court registrar in which he expressed concern the fines were in place for breach of an order based on the use of “false” statements.
The judge said he had dealt with that issue in a ruling of February 4th, which addressed the school’s application to correct certain statements in earlier affidavits.
He had said, because the erroneous affidavits were not put before him, the errors be brought to the attention of the relevant judges and both the school and Mr Burke were free to do that. The judge said, as far as he was aware, Mr Burke has not done so.
It was not for him to decide whether any of his colleagues were materially influence by the “false” evidence and that was why it was neither necessary nor appropriate for him to have the question of the admitted errors in the school’s affidavits listed before him.
The main hearing of the proceedings between Mr Burke and the school is set to open at the High Court on March 28th and to run for four days. Mr Burke is separately appealing against a notice, served on January 20th, from the school board of management for his dismissal from the school.