Teacher Enoch Burke ‘had tears in eyes after students briefed on gender’

Mr Burke has not returned to the courtroom since Tuesday afternoon after a judge warned him that he was in contempt of court.

By Grinne N. Aodha
Thursday 30 March 2023 16:57 BST
Irish teacher suspended from school, jailed over transgender pronouns row

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Louise Thomas

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Irish teacher Enoch Burke had tears in his eyes and appeared flustered after students at the school he taught at were briefed on gender issues, a Dublin court heard.

The High Court also heard that the school had concerns about further protests from Mr Burke, which was among the reasons he was placed on paid administrative pending the conclusion of a disciplinary process initiated against him.

The board of management of Wilson’s Hospital School and Mr Burke are in a dispute that stems from incidents following a request from the school’s then-principal last May to address a student by a new name and the pronoun “they”.

Mr Burke, an Evangelical Christian, maintains the case is about the freedom to express his religious beliefs.

Two witnesses gave evidence in the High Court on Thursday, which continued without Mr Burke or a legal representative for him being present.

Mr Burke has not returned to the courtroom since Tuesday afternoon after a judge warned him that he could only return if he accepted the rulings of the court.

On Thursday, Mr Justice Alex Owens addressed the function to view court proceedings online and said: “Mr Burke, if you’re listening, you’re more than welcome to attend online.”

He said that he could attend in person but that he must commit to obeying the rulings of the court, adding that “if you don’t respond I’ll have to take it that you’re not” going to participate.

As the deputy principal of Wilson’s Hospital School John Galligan gave evidence, Mr Justice Owens read out the minutes from a meeting on August 22 where a decision was made to place Mr Burke on paid administrative leave.

Certain details were then put to Mr Galligan by the judge, who said he was doing this due to the circumstances of no legal team to represent the other side, and so that he could establish the facts of the case.

Mr Galligan, who has served in the deputy principal role since 2019, said Mr Burke was a good teacher and that “his forte” had been extracurricular debating.

He said at a staff meeting on May 10, which took place after then-principal Niamh McShane issued an email about how to address the student in question, Mr Burke “erupted” and spoke for “a good five to eight minutes”.

He described him as “agitated”, said he “changed colour completely”, adding that he did not shout but was “good at projecting his voice loudly”.

At another meeting held on May 18 between Mr Galligan, Mr Burke, and the then-principal, the deputy principal said that Mr Burke “repeated again and again ‘because of my religious beliefs, I am opposed to transgenderism'”.

Mr Galligan said Mr Burke failed to answer more specifically how he intended to address the student, “so we were none the wiser on how he would deal with the situation”.

Guidance councillor Freda Malone told the court that said she had worked at the school since 2010 and was one of the teacher representatives on the board of management.

She said that after Ms McShane issued the email in May, she asked Mr Burke to leave the classroom he had been supervising before the year head explained to a class about the situation facing a particular student.

She said that he left the class, but she observed him looking in the window and writing things down as the year head addressed students.

When Mr Burke addressed her afterwards, he appeared “irate” and flustered.

She told the court that she said to him that she was sorry he was upset and could see there were tears in his eyes.

She told the court that at the 260th anniversary for the school held on June 21, she saw Mr Burke approach Ms McShane and demand that she withdraw the email about the student’s request.

She said she observed him attempting to follow her around the canteen, and that she saw another parent try to step in to block his path.

She said she joined the parent and that Mr Burke said “you are stopping my progress”.

She said she believed she had asked him “why are you behaving this way” and why he had “accosted” Ms McShane.

“I recall he said to me ‘I have not accosted anyone Freda, you better be careful what you say to me.’ It wasn’t a very pleasant situation to be in,” she said.

At the disciplinary hearing on January 19, Ms Malone was nominated to stand in as acting chair of the board of management, as the chair Mr John Rogers was ill.

Mr Burke and three members of his family, including his sister Ammi, was present at the same meeting.

“I attempted to start the meeting and the Burkes right from the start shouted over me,” Ms Malone said.

She said that the Burkes objected to the stenographer being in the room, and when she had left, “they all huddled together”.

Then they started objecting to the fact that John Rogers was not there, she told the court, but said the meeting began despite their objections.

She said that former principal Ms McShane began to read from the stage-four report she had compiled, and moved closer to the board members so that she could be heard.

Ms Malone said that all four Burke family members also moved closer, until they were “right at our desks in front of us”.

She said they were so close that at one point “Ammi’s hair whipped me in the face”.

She said they had shouted about there being “no chair in the room”, and about proceedings being a “sham”.

“It was absurd what they were shouting,” she said.

In response to a question from Alex White SC for the school, Ms Malone added: “If Mr Burke felt he couldn’t hear something it was because his own family were [speaking] so loudly.

She said that she had twice invited Mr Burke to ask questions or address the board and he did not reply but “just continued with the chanting”.

The meeting was then brought to a close, and board members moved to an adjoining room to discuss the matter, which she said went on for about two-and-a-half hours.

She told the court that the board concluded that there had been “a clear example of intimidation”, of harassment of a colleague (Ms McShane), a serious breach of confidentiality by disclosing something about a student at the chapel service on June 21, and added that there was a health and safety concern for students.

The legal team for the school is due to deliver its concluding remarks at 10.30am on Friday.

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