High Court Reporters
A judge will give his decision next week on teacher Enoch Burke’s application for an injunction preventing a school’s disciplinary process which could result in his dismissal.
A lawyer for Wilson’s Hospital School told the High Court on Thursday that Enoch Burke’s bid for injunctions halting disciplinary proceedings against should be dismissed because his application is “premature” due to his refusal to obey a court order to stay away from the school’s premises.
Mr Burke has asked the court for an injunction preventing the school from proceeding with a disciplinary process that could result in his dismissal, due to take place later this month. If granted, the injunction would remain in place until the full hearing of the action has been resolved by the courts.
Judgement in the matter is expected early next week.
A disciplinary meeting into the allegations against Mr Burke, which stem from his alleged behaviour towards the former school principal at a school function last May where the teacher openly voiced his opposition to transgenderism, has been scheduled for January 19th next.
On the second day of the hearing before Mr Justice Conor Dignam on Thursday, Rosemary Mallon BL for the school submitted that the court should not grant the orders sought and rejected claims that the process commenced by the school is flawed as alleged.
Mr Burke, counsel said, had not come to court with “clean hands”.
Contempt of court
Counsel said Mr Burke had refused to comply with a court order obtained by the school, resulting in his incarceration for 108 days for being in contempt of court.
The order was sought after he refused to abide with the terms of his paid suspension and stay away from the school.
He was released from prison before Christmas but had again breached the order by attending at the school after the holidays concluded on January 5th last, counsel said.
She said that since then Mr Burke had been in a school corridor and was being observed by the school’s principal. The students counsel said, “are aware of what is going on.”
Mr Burke, she said, could not ask for the protection of the court on one hand, and then ignore another court order that does not suit him.
“He who seeks equity must do equity” counsel said, adding that on this ground alone the application for the injunction should be dismissed.
Counsel added that the application was premature, that nothing has been decided by the school’s board in relation to the disciplinary process, and no finding in relation to the allegations of misconduct have been made against him.
Counsel said that while it was open to the board to dismiss Mr Burke, she said the court should be slow to interfere with a process.
If Mr Burke is unhappy with the outcome, he has a right of appeal or could challenge any adverse finding against him in the courts.
Counsel said that Mr Burke’s fear and apprehension of being dismissed was not in itself something that the court should grant an injunction over.
If that were the case, then the courts could be flooded with actions brought by all persons who are the subject of a disciplinary process.
Mr Burke’s reputation
In response to Mr Burke’s claim that the process will damage his reputation, counsel said that the case had attracted a lot of media attention.
Mr Burke’s reputation was in his own hands, counsel said.
Counsel also sought to address claims made by Mr Burke that the school board chairman John Rogers had allegedly lied in a statement sworn in reply to the teacher’s application for injunctions.
Mr Burke alleged that in the statement Mr Rogers said that a report compiled by the school’s former principal about allegations against the teacher was put before, but not discussed by the board at its meeting on August 15th.
Mr Burke claimed this contradicts minutes of a meeting attended by Mr Burke, where Mr Rogers is alleged to have said that the contents of the report were discussed by the board.
Mr Burke claimed this amounts to “a lie” and says any discussion of the report by the board on August when he was not present amounts to breach of his rights to fair procedures.
Ms Mallon said her client had sworn another statement to address that allegation, which is denied, which she sought to put before the court in order to clarify the situation.
However, following objections from Mr Burke, Mr Justice Dignam said it would not be fair for the court to consider the supplementary affidavit.
The judge reminded the parties that at this stage of the overall proceedings that the court does not have to make any findings of fact, and that any issue in dispute between them would have to be resolved at the full hearing of the dispute. In his reply to the school’s submissions, Mr Burke rejected claims that he did not have clean hands and told the court that the process is so fundamentally flawed that he is entitled to injunctions halting the process.
He also denies the allegations against him.
Following the conclusion of submissions from the parties the judge said that he was reserving his decision. He hoped to give judgement on Monday afternoon, but accepted that a more realistic time of delivery was Tuesday morning.
The proceedings passed off without any major disputes between the court and the Burke family. However, at one point of Thursday’s hearing Mr Justice Dignam warned that the court would not tolerate any “heckling”.
Mr Burke, who spent over 100 days in prison for being in contempt of a court order made in September requiring staying away and not attempt to teach at the Co Westmeath school, is challenging the disciplinary process which resulted in him being suspended for alleged gross misconduct on full pay last August.
He claims his suspension relates to his religious opposition to transgenderism, after being told by the school to refer to a student at the school who wishes to transition by “a different name” or a “they.”
The disciplinary process, which stems from allegations that he voiced his opposition to the school’s request regarding the student to the school’s then principal Niamh McShane in a very public manner at a school function before staff, students and parents held last May.
A separate application brought by the school, arising out of Mr Burke’s refusal to comply with a court order to stay away from the school while he is suspended has been adjourned to next week.
The school seeks a court order sequestering or removing Mr Burke’s assets from him, due to his alleged on-going contempt of a High Court order granted in September.
He was released from prison before Christmas, without purging his contempt, but was told by Mr Justice Brian O’Moore that he faced the prospect of being jailed again if he continued to act contrary to the order.