The chapel at Wilson’s Hospital School in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath, was packed with students, staff, parents and clergy for a service last June. The occasion was both solemn and solemn, marking the 260th anniversary of the Church of Ireland Diocesan Boarding School.
As the final blessing was given, a teacher stood up and interrupted him.
Enoch Burke spoke for two or three minutes about a request by then-principal Niamh McShane for teachers to address a student who had recently come forward as transgender by a new name and to use the pronoun “she” instead of “he.” The request didn’t sit well with Mr Burke, an evangelical Christian who has taught at the school since 2018.
He said he could not agree to transgenderism and that Ms McShane’s “claim” should be withdrawn. He said it was against the school’s ethos and vision of its founder, and against the teachings of the Church of Ireland.
The extraordinary and very public outburst caused considerable excitement. Members of the community, including sixth graders, walked out.
Mr Burke had expressed these views privately to the Headmaster for several weeks, but now he had done so in front of the whole school.
The interruption was one of several incidents that led to his being suspended from full pay by school officials for a disciplinary hearing last month.
His opposition to that suspension and a subsequent court order barring him from the school means the teacher must be brought before the High Court on Monday and could be sent to prison.
Ms Judge Miriam O’Regan ordered his “garnishment” – an order directing Gardaí to bring him to court to answer for contempt – after he failed to appear in court yesterday.
Instead of appearing in court, Mr Burke showed up at the school for a class he should have been teaching had he not been suspended.
He spent the day sitting in an empty classroom after doing the same on Wednesday and Thursday.
Challenged by school officials, Mr Burke claimed his suspension was unlawful, saying “I’m here to work.”
The series is the latest in a series involving Mr Burke’s family. He is one of 10 children, all with biblical names, who were homeschooled by their mother Martina Burke in Castlebar, Co. Mayo.
The siblings have been very successful academically, but some have drawn into controversy, sometimes due to their religious beliefs. Recently, Enoch’s sister Ammi, a lawyer, had a dispute with the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and a judge over the handling of a wrongful dismissal complaint she was bringing against the Arthur Cox law firm.
Her claim was thrown out by the WRC after repeated interruptions by her mother.
Last April, Martina Burke and two of her children, Jemima and Josiah, were disqualified from an investigation by Gardaí after they made unsubstantiated claims about a child’s health care.
In 2021, Ammi, Enoch and two other siblings, Isaac and Kezia, lost a court case against NUI Galway over a decision banning them from college societies for life. The court was told that the Burkes were distributing flyers implicitly associating gay marriage with pedophilia and incest.
Three years earlier, Martina Burke had criticized LGBT+ school leadership training, calling it an “amoral, revealing framework”.
The latest controversy has not only led to unwanted publicity for the prestigious school, whose boarding fees range from €9,500 to €11,000, but also to concerns about the welfare of the students.
Instead of drawing a line under the issue, Mr. Burke’s objections were very publicly continued at the 260th anniversary service on June 21st
The origin of the dispute can be traced back to May, when a meeting took place between Ms McShane, a student, and the student’s parents. She was told that the student, a biological male, wished to switch and be addressed by a different name and pronoun.
A request to this effect was emailed to staff by Ms McShane on May 9, which led to an angry response from Mr Burke the following day.
According to an affidavit from the school’s chief executive, John Rogers, Mr Burke replied via email: “I am shocked that students from this school are being forced to accept this position.”
He asked whether the students’ parents were informed and whether the school chaplain agreed.
The headmaster replied that there was “no suggestion of violence by or for anyone” and that the chaplain’s approval was not required.
She said that if Mr. Burke was not ready to have the child in his classroom he should make an appointment to see her.
In response, Mr Burke wrote: “It is wrong for this belief system to be forced upon students and I will continue to pursue it. It is an abuse of children and their constitutional rights.”
Later that day, he interrupted a staff meeting, asked the chaplain where he stood on the matter, and questioned the appropriateness of a faith school placing a student in this manner.
Speaking to then-deputy and now acting headmaster John Galligan on May 18, Mr Burke claimed Ms McShane had made every effort to defy the ethos and doctrine of the Church of Ireland. In response to Mr Burke’s protests, Ms McShane emailed him on May 27 to clarify the school’s approach.
She told him that the school’s ethos was inclusive and that the welfare of the students was paramount. Her admissions policy, she said, reaffirms that the school will not discriminate against a student on any of the grounds set out in the Equality Act. “The right of individuals to be called by a name of their choice and in accordance with their preferred gender is a recognized right, and refusing to address individuals by their preferred gender or new name was considered sex discrimination,” she said .
“While I recognize that it may be a challenge for you given your own religious beliefs, given the school’s ethos and the school’s obligation under the Equality Act, I expect that you will communicate with this student in accordance with the wishes of the student and the.” student’s parents.”
Instead of drawing a line under the issue, Mr. Burke’s objections were very publicly continued at the 260th anniversary service on June 21st.
According to Mr Rogers’ affidavit, a dinner was held afterwards. It is alleged that after the meal he reached out to Ms McShane and “excitedly” asked her to withdraw her request to staff. Ms McShane said she was ready to speak to him but this was not the place and she walked away from him.
However, it is alleged that he followed her and continued to question her loudly. “Other people intervened to prevent the questioning from proceeding,” said Mr. Rogers.
In a report, Ms McShane, who has since taken on a principal position at another school, expressed “serious concerns” about how Mr Burke might act in the future.
“These concerns extend to the affected student and the entire student body,” she said.
Mr Burke was informed on August 24 that he was placed on administrative leave following what Mr Rogers described as a “very difficult meeting” with the school board.
He was accompanied to the meeting by his sister Ammi.
However, he showed up at school the next day and refused to leave the school, despite requests from Mr Galligan.
In a letter to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Burke said: “I consider the initiation of the disciplinary proceedings and the Board’s decision regarding the suspension to be unreasonable, unfair and unlawful.”
Despite these claims, the High Court was told the teacher had taken no legal action to challenge his suspension.
Because of his attitude, he faces a prison sentence for contempt on Monday.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/enoch-burke-may-be-sent-to-prison-over-defiance-of-suspension-and-court-order-41958031.html Enoch Burke can be sent to prison for flouting a suspension and a court order