Thursday, September 01, 2022

Aodhan O’Faolain

A teacher who objects to addressing a student with the pronoun “they” has breached the terms of a temporary injunction preventing him from attending or teaching at the secondary school where he is employed, the High Court has heard.

As a result of the alleged breach of the order granted earlier this week, Wilson’s Hospital School has sought an order that could see teacher Enoch Burke jailed for contempt of court unless he agrees to abide by the terms of the interim injunction.

Mr Burke was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a disciplinary process commenced by the Co Westmeath secondary school, where he has been employed for several years.

That process commenced after Mr Burke allegedly publicly voiced his alleged opposition to a request by the school’s principal to address a student, who wishes to transition, by a different name and by using the pronoun “they” rather than he or she.

On Tuesday, the school’s board of management secured a temporary, ex-parte, High Court order against Mr Burke preventing him from attending or teaching any classes at the school.

The order was obtained because the board claims that Mr Burke was not abiding by the terms of his suspension, which it is alleged he believes is unlawful, by attending at the school.

The court also heard that a substitute teacher has been hired to teach his classes while he remains suspended.

The temporary injunction is to remain in place until the matter returned before the High Court next week.

However, the board, represented by Rosemary Mallon BL, instructed by Ian O’Herlihy of Mason Hayes and Curran solicitors, returned to the court on Thursday and told Ms Justice Miriam O’Regan that Mr Burke has breached the terms of the injunction.

Counsel said that despite being served with, and being made aware of the making of interim injunction, Mr Burke attended the school on Wednesday and Thursday.

Counsel said the board was very concerned about the defendant’s refusal to abide by the injunction and the terms of his suspension and it may be disruptive to the school’s students at the beginning of the new academic year.

As a result, counsel said that her client was now seeking a motion from the Court, known as a motion for attachment and committal, directing that he be brought before the court to answer the allegation that he is in breach of the order.

Counsel said that the school’s sole objective from bringing the proceedings, which it had not done lightly, was to prevent any further disruption.

Ms Justice O’Regan allowed the board to serve short notice on Mr Burke of its application to bring a motion before the court seeking his attachment and committal to prison.

The judge made the motion returnable to Friday’s vacation sitting of the High Court.

Should the motion be granted and if Mr Burke continues to act in breach of the order he could be jailed or committed to Mountjoy Prison for being in contempt of court.

Church of Ireland school

The school, located in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath, is the Church of Ireland’s diocesan school for Meath and Kildare.

Earlier this week the court heard that while a disciplinary process is currently underway, Mr Burke, originally from Co Mayo, has not been sanctioned and no finding has been made against him by the school.

The school claims that despite its decision to suspend him, made at what counsel said was “a difficult meeting” he attended with his sister Ammi earlier this month, Mr Burke has attended at the school’s campus in recent days.

Mr Burke has described his suspension as being unreasonable, unjust and unlawful.

The disciplinary process arose after the teacher objected to a request by the school, based on a request from a student and their parents, earlier this year to address a student, who wishes to transition, by a different name and to use the pronoun ‘they’ going forward.

Mr Burke, it is claimed, objected to this, questioned the school’s position, has alleged that a belief system is being forced on students.

He also claims that the school’s request amounts to a breach of constitutional rights, the High Court heard.

In correspondence to Mr Burke, the school denied that anyone is being “forced” to do anything.

The school said it is focusing on the needs and welfare of its students and is affirming its policy in accordance with the 2000 Equal Status Act of not discriminating against any student.

The school said it has acknowledged Mr Burke’s religious beliefs but expects him to communicate with the student in accordance with the students’ and their parent’s wishes.

School service

The school claims that, last June, a service and dinner was held to mark its 260th anniversary. It was attended by clergy, staff, past and present pupils, parents and board members.

It is claimed that Mr Burke interrupted the service and said the school’s principal, Niamh McShane, should withdraw the earlier demand regarding the transitioning of the student.

It is also claimed he said he could not agree with transgenderism and said it went against the school’s ethos and the teachings of the Church of Ireland.

The school claims that after he spoke, members of the congregation and students walked out of the school chapel where the service was being conducted.

It is claimed that at the follow-up dinner, Mr Burke did not sit at any table.

After the meal he is alleged to have approached the principal and again asked her to withdraw the request regarding the student.

The school claims the principal said she would speak to Mr Burke at an appropriate time and place, and walked away from him.

It is claimed he continued to follow her and questioned her loudly.

Other people stood between them to prevent the continuation of his questioning, it is further claimed.

Arising out of Mr Burke’s alleged conduct, a disciplinary process was commenced and considered by the board, resulting in a decision to place him on administrative leave pending the outcome of the process.

The next stage of the disciplinary process is due to take place in mid-September.

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