A Fucking Disgrace, Transgender, How can, a Boy, be a Girl, if Enoch Burke, was Muslim, they would do Fuck All. Our Christian and Catholic, Beliefs, are under Siege. This is Shocking?

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‘I’m here today because I said I would not call a boy a girl,’ teacher Enoch Burke tells judge before being jailed

Evangelical Christian spurns his last chance to avoid prison as he refuses to comply with court order in school transgender row

Enoch Burke being led into the Four Courts by gardaí. Photo: Collins
The teacher's father Seán Burke looks on. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Enoch Burke being led into the Four Courts by gardaí. Photo: Collins

Shane Phelan and Eavan Murray

September 06 2022 02:30 AM


Enoch Burke sat in the front row of Court 1, where senior barristers usually sit, looking down and clasping his hands.

It appeared he was letting the magnitude of the ruling sink in. Moments earlier, Mr Justice Michael Quinn jailed the schoolteacher for contempt of court, an indefinite prison term which can only be ended if the person involved agrees to purge their contempt or a judge exercises discretion to order their release.

His crime was breaching a court order barring him from Wilson’s Hospital School, where he worked for four years teaching German, history and politics, pending the outcome of a disciplinary process.

Mr Burke, one of 10 siblings in a well-known family of evangelical Christians from Castlebar, Co Mayo, had vehemently opposed a request made last May by school principal Niamh McShane that staff call a transgender child by a new name and use the pronoun “they” instead of “he”.

He explained in court that this offended his religious beliefs and was something that he was unwilling to do.

His stance led to a number of flashpoints, including the interruption of a chapel service and what the school claims was “heated” questioning of Ms McShane after a school dinner.

He was suspended on full pay on August 24 by the board of management, which scheduled a disciplinary meeting for September 14. However, Mr Burke continued to show up for work, even after the board felt compelled to secure a temporary injunction from Ms Justice Siobhán Stack in the High Court last Wednesday restraining him from doing so.

Mr Burke told the court yesterday that if it let him go free, he would continue to show up at his workplace.

After Judge Quinn made his ruling, Rosemary Mallon, counsel for the board, asked the judge if he might leave Mr Burke to think about things for 10 minutes.

Throughout the contempt application, she had been at pains to state the board did not want to see Mr Burke punished and was merely seeking to coerce him into complying with the injunction. Ms Mallon suggested the teacher might reconsider his position now he was faced with prison.

However, Mr Burke unclasped his hands and quickly stood. “I can’t purge my contempt of something that requires me to hold my Christian beliefs in contempt. I will not give up my Christian belief in male and female,” he said.

Mr Burke had continued his defiance of last week’s court order yesterday morning, arriving at the Church of Ireland diocesan boarding school in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath, for a class he would have been rostered to teach had he not been suspended. On previous occasions when he did this, he had ended up sitting in an empty classroom, but yesterday he was met by three gardaí, there to execute an attachment order. His father Seán and brother Isaac were watching nearby as he was placed in a garda van at around 9am.

Parents watched on too. One said Mr Burke was “an excellent teacher” whose suspension was “a loss to his students”. Another said she believed the school was left with no option after what she termed his “public outburst” at the chapel service.

Mr Burke’s father and brother followed the garda van as it made its way to Dublin. By 10.30am, the teacher, wearing a grey check suit and open-necked white shirt, had arrived into the round hall of the Four Courts with an enlarged garda entourage of four. His father and brother trailed behind.

Absent was his mother Martina Burke, who home-schooled her children and has stated her opposition to LGBTQ+ training for school principals. Also absent was his sister Ammi, a solicitor, who has had her own recent appearances in the High Court where she is challenging the handling of her unfair dismissal claim against law firm Arthur Cox.

In the courtroom, Mr Burke initially appeared nervous, his voice stumbled as he confirmed he was opposing the application. By the time the matter was heard at 2pm, whatever nerves he had were gone. He spoke in a confident and clear manner, as if taking part in a university debate.

“I am a teacher. I want to be in my classroom today. That is where I was this morning when I was arrested,” he said.

“I love my school, Wilson’s Hospital School. Its motto being ‘res non verba’, ‘actions and not words’. I am here today, judge, because I said I would not call a boy a girl.”

He spoke for about five minutes. “Transgenderism is against my Christian beliefs. It is contrary to the scriptures. It is contrary to the ethos of the Church of Ireland, the ethos of my school,” he said.

He did not mention an email he received from Ms McShane explaining the ethos of the school was inclusive and recognised the right of a person to be called by a name of their choosing in accordance of their preferred gender.

Mr Burke said he wanted the court to know he respected the law and the court system. But he claimed the “injustice” he faced was “so egregious” he could not do so on this occasion. “It is not something I will do. It is in violation of my conscience,” Mr Burke said.

His intervention at the service, held to mark the school’s 260th anniversary, prompted a walkout by members of the congregation, including sixth-year pupils.

He sought to justify his actions, saying it had been the will of the school’s founder Andrew Wilson that “it would be a school of service to God”.

“I said that if he was looking down, would he think that this was all hypocrisy,” Mr Burke said. He also sought to downplay his questioning of the principal, saying he approached her after “waiting patiently” and asked her to “withdraw the demands”.

“I just asked her once and then I left her alone,” he said.

A report by Ms McShane claimed he followed her, questioned her loudly and others had to step between them.

Mr Burke also alleged his suspension was procedurally flawed. However, Judge Quinn said he could only concern himself with whether there had been a wilful breach of Judge Stack’s order.

The judge said it was not in dispute that Mr Burke had not complied with the order and he was satisfied the teacher was in contempt of court.

“I order he be committed to Mountjoy Prison and remain therein until he purges his contempt or until further order of this court,” he ruled.

After eschewing the opportunity to reconsider his position, Mr Burke hugged his father and brother, who had been sitting a few benches behind him, and was escorted by gardaí to a garda van. The matter returns to the court tomorrow when Mr Burke will be asked, having spent two nights in prison, if he will finally comply with the court order.

If he again refuses, he faces a lengthy stay behind bars.

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