Sunday, 17 December 2023 04:36

Teacher jailed indefinitely for refusing to 'call a boy a girl'

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It's the trans rights row that has gripped Ireland for well over a year – putting an otherwise unremarkable history teacher at the heart of the country's culture wars for his refusal to use a trans pupil's pronouns. 

Enoch Burke – who taught History and German – refused to refer to a transitioning transgender student as 'they' rather than 'he' in May last year.

It sparked a chain of events that has led to him being jailed for repeatedly showing up at Wilson's Hospital School in County Westmeath after being sacked, and entering the staff room saying he was there to do his job. 

Now he remains in Dublin's Mountjoy Prison with no prospect of release because he refuses to comply with a court order to stay away from the school premises. 

Meanwhile, Burke's loyal family continue to protest at the school, maintaining he's being persecuted for his Christian beliefs – while supporters insist the whole 'country is behind him'. 

However, others less sympathetic to the cause view his stubborn refusal and his family's protests as attention seeking, with one newspaper columnist pointing out that the Burkes 'like to get their own way'.  

The row broke out more than a year ago, when during a meeting with the headteacher and his deputy, Burke said that his Evangelical Christian beliefs meant he 'opposed transgenderism'.

Following this, Burke publicly criticised the headteacher's 'demand' that staff use students' chosen pronouns, following a service at the Church of Ireland school to celebrate its 260th anniversary

Burke was accused of 'breaching the confidence' of the transitioning student, and as a result, the teacher was suspended with pay and later fired for gross misconduct in August last year.

However, Burke continued showing up at the school – prompting his former employer to obtain a court order to get him to stay away.

In September last year, Burke was jailed for 100 days for ignoring the court order.

During an appeal, the teacher argued that he was being imprisoned because of his Christian beliefs.

After being released, Burke was imprisoned for the second time in September this year for refusing to stay away from the school again – and has been told he will remain in prison indefinitely until he agrees to comply with the court order.

Here FEMAIL delves into the case that has gripped Ireland – as Burke's family campaigns for his release without having to 'endorse transgenderism'.

Beginning of trans row

Last Spring, headteacher Niamh McShane sent an email to her staff informing them of the student's new name and pronouns.

After receiving the email, Burke is said to have raised his issue with the change of pronouns during a staff meeting on May 10 last year. 

While giving evidence in a later trial, deputy headteacher John Galligan said that Burke 'erupted' during the meeting and 'changed colour completely'.

According to the former deputy head, Burke – whose 'forte' was said to have been extracurricular debating – spoke for a 'good five to eight minutes'.

After this, guidance counsellor Freda Malone told a court that she approached Burke to tell him she was sorry he was so upset and noted that he had tears in his eyes. 

In a follow-up meeting between the headteacher, her deputy and Burke, Mr Galligan claimed the jailed teacher repeated how he was 'opposed to transgenderism' as a result of his religion. 

Following this, Burke is said to have publicly interjected after a religious service celebrating the school's 260th anniversary to criticise Ms McShane's supposed 'demand' that staff refer to the student by their chosen pronouns.

Following the chapel service, Burke is alleged to have approached the headteacher at a meal where he asked her to withdraw her 'demand' again.

As a result of this, the headteacher believed Burke was guilty of gross misconduct – as other students may not have been aware the student was transitioning. 

Ms Freda Malone, who worked at the school as a guidance counsellor, claims Burke 'breached the confidence' of the student on two occasions during that occasion.

Speaking at a High Court hearing in March this year, Ms Malone said the headteacher was escorted home by other guests at the event and they later 'formed a ring' around her home out of concern for her safety.

Discussing the incidents in court, headteacher Ms McShane – who stepped down amid the controversy – said: 'The public statement of his refusal to accept transgenderism in the chapel… it was as [if] the school had demanded to accept transgenderism, which was not the case, so it was a misrepresentation of what happened. 

'What I asked is that we could support the student in their request, that is very different to ask the staff to accept transgenderism.'

Initial Suspension and Protest 

In August last year, Ms McShane submitted a stage-four report to the chair of the board John Rogers about Burke's outbursts – which prompted the representative to arrange a meeting with the teacher.

The purpose of the meeting was to decide if Burke should be suspended or face any kind of disciplinary action.

Burke's sister Ammi is said to have joined him for the meeting – which was adjourned for 15 minutes by Rodgers, who said it was 'going nowhere'.

When the representatives returned to the meeting room, the Burkes had left.

After this, the board made the unanimous decision to place Burke on paid leave while they dealt with the misconduct allegation. 

According to Galligan, there were growing concerns 'about what [Burke's] next protest might be and the form it would take' in the new school year.

Despite being put on leave, Burke is said to have attended a staff meeting at the start of the school year.

After repeatedly arriving on school grounds, Burke was allegedly asked to leave 'every hour' by the deputy head.

The ex-deputy head said: '[Burke] would be there for the day, standing in the room reading from a book. That’s where he remained.'

Galligan says Burke refused to leave the premises - insisting he was 'there to work and attend meetings'. 

In May 2023, the Irish High Court ruled that the school had acted lawfully in suspending Burke and said Enoch had been 'trespassing' on their grounds.

First prison sentence 

In an attempt to keep Burke away from the premises while they conducted the investigation, the school took out a temporary court order against the teacher – which still didn't deter him.

In August last year, Enoch was sued by the school for his failure to comply with the court order and later arrested for being in contempt of court.

At his initial hearing on September 6 that year, Burke told Judge Quinn: 'I am a teacher and I don't want to go to prison. I want to be in my classroom today, that's where I was this morning when I was arrested.'

'I love my school, with its motto Res Non Verba, actions not words, but I am here today because I said I would not call a boy a girl.'

When the case went to the High Court the following week, Burke, who was representing himself, maintained that he would not purge his contempt of court for violating the order, insisting that he was being persecuted for his faith. 

When asked by Judge Eileen Roberts if he would abide by the order, Burke said: ‘I cannot do that. I go back to jail as a law-abiding citizen of the state always. But God first.’ 

Addressing the court, Burke said: ‘The question is not will I purge my contempt but how this court order could have been granted?

‘The court is asking me to purge my contempt, but this court has robbed me of my constitutional right. It was wrong what the court did. How can I purge my contempt of that which is wrong?’

But Judge Roberts disagreed with his argument. The teacher was escorted out of the court to prison by three prison guards to loud applause from the public gallery with many hollering: ‘The country is with you Enoch.’

Dozens of people packed the public gallery shouting ‘disgrace’ and ‘shame’ following the judge’s decision.

The teacher served more than 100 days before being released on December 21 last year on an 'open-ended- basis.

Eventual Dismissal and €15,000 fine

On January 18, Burke and his family interrupted a school board meeting, which was being held at the Mullingar Park Hotel in Westmeath.

During the meeting, the board heard Ms McShane's report into Burke's misconduct. 

The family took issue to the fact that chairman John Rogers – who had held the initial meeting with Burke – was not present. In a High Court hearing, it was revealed that Rogers had not attended the meeting due to illness.

The Burkes could reportedly be heard chanting in the hallway: 'It's a sham. It's a cover-up.' 

Gardaí had to escort board members from a Mullingar hotel while they were being followed by members of Burke's family 

Two days later, it was announced that Burke had officially been dismissed from his position at the school for intimidating and harassing a colleague and breaching the confidence of the child who was in the process of transitioning.

At the time, a statement from the school read: 'He was informed in person at 3:30pm this afternoon in the presence of chairperson of the board of management Rogers and principal Frank Milling that he was dismissed.' 

One week later, the High Court ruled that Burke would be fined €700 a day if he continued ignoring the court order which requires him to stay away from the school. 

Burke appealed the board's decision to dismiss him – which resulted in the case going to the Irish High Court in March.

Justice Owens excluded the teacher on the first day after he continually interrupted proceedings and refused to comply with rules.

Scenes of pandemonium broke out at the Court of Appeal, as Burke, his parents and three of his siblings were physically dragged out of the courtroom by gardaí. 

Enoch's mother, Martina Burke, accused the judges of 'bowing to the altar of transgenderism' while waving a copy of the Constitution. 

His sister Ammi, a solicitor, also attempted to argue with the judges mid-ruling, saying her brother's constitutional rights were not being upheld.

Judge Birmingham asked her to sit down, and then requested that gardaí remove her from the courtroom.

During the hearing, Freda Malone said the school was concerned for the transgender student's safety and feared Burke would continue making public protests in front of other students.

Meanwhile, Galligan discussed Burke's initial outburst at the staff meeting and his repeated attempts to remove the teacher from the premises during his suspension.

Following the hearing, Justice Owens made an order restraining Burke from trespassing on the school premises – but noted that this did not prevent him from being outside the gates.

In July, Burke was ordered to pay €15,000 to Wilson's Hospital School to cover their legal fees and for damages.

Appearing before Justice Alexander Owens, Burke said that objecting to people being transgender was his right. 

Indefinite prison sentence 

In September, Burke was jailed for a second time after refusing to comply with the High Court order.

The school's new headteacher Frank Milling said that having to lock doors was creating a health and safety issue for faculty. 

On top of this, the headteacher said he was unable to carry out some of his everyday duties as he has to monitor Burke – who has been known to follow cars through the gates.

After gaining access by following a bus in January, Milling – who has expressed concern for how the situation is impacting current students – told Burke: 'Stop. Stop. Get off the property.'  

Despite being removed from the premises by two uniformed gardaí, Burke returned to the gates following his release later that same day. 

Speaking at the gates, Burke told local press that he had been 'wrongfully arrested' for trespassing and insisted he has 'broken no laws' and 'done nothing wrong', the Irish Independent reports.

Justice Mark Heslin said there was 'no dispute' that Burke has 'fragrantly breached' court orders to stay away from the school.

As a result, the judge ordered that Burke remain in prison 'indefinitely' until he agrees to follow the court order and not return to his old workplace.

After finding Burke to be in contempt of court, Heslin asked the teacher on three occasions if he understood the order against him. However, Burke remained silent. 

Burke was returned to Mountjoy Prison – where he spent his first prison sentence – and was told he could be released if he agreed to stay away from the school. The former teacher has been imprisoned at the facility since September 8 and has been participating in court hearings via video link.

In November, Burke's father Sean and brother Isaac were physically removed from the Court of Appeal for interrupting Justice John Edwards.

Last week, Burke's mother Martina and sister Ammi were removed from the Court of Appeal after they began shouting at barristers and the judge upon entry.

The pair demanded that Eoin Lawlor BL – who is acting as the counsel for the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission – leave the courtroom.

On top of this, they accused the court of 'making a fool' of Enoch and said it was 'corrupt' that the teacher had to contribute via video-link while Lawlor was present.

Last night, Burke's family protested outside the Wilson's Hospital School, which was hosting their annual carol concert.

His mother held a sign reading: 'Enoch Burke stood for school ethos and is in Mountjoy for Christmas.'

His brother's sign read: 'Enoch Burke jailed for his Christian belief.' 

'Christmas in Mountjoy for Christian teacher,' his father's sign read. 


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