High Court rejects bid by trans row teacher to end his suspension by school

The High Court in Dublin has rejected an application by an Irish schoolteacher for an injunction to prevent his school from continuing his paid suspension from work.

Enoch Burke, who is an evangelical Christian, was suspended from work on full pay last month pending the outcome of a disciplinary process after a number of incidents stemming from a transgender row in school.

Burke voiced on several occasions his opposition to a request from the secondary school’s principal to address a transgender child by their name and refer to them by the pronoun “they”.

Subsequent events led to his suspension from his job at Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath.

Mountjoy Prison
Mountjoy Prison (Haydn West/PA)

Burke was committed to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin earlier this month by a High Court judge after he breached a temporary court order to stay away from his workplace.

The teacher returned to prison on Wednesday after the orders he sought were rejected by Ms Justice Eileen Roberts.

Ms Justice Roberts said she was not convinced Burke had a strong chance of succeeding at a full trial between him and his employers.

The school accused him of confronting the principal at a school event in June, which led the principal to raise “concerns” about his future behaviour.

The principal then compiled a report last August which led to the disciplinary process.

Burke made an application seeking an injunction against the process. He told the court on Wednesday that the process was “unlawful” and in breach of his constitutional rights.

He also claimed that any conclusion reached as a result of the disciplinary process would be “legally unsustainable”.

Enoch Burke
Enoch Burke leaving the High Court in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

He told the court there is no lawful basis for his paid administrative leave and he should be allowed to resume his teaching at the school.

He claimed the entire process had been “invalid”.

He also said the report went “far beyond mere gathering of evidence” and the statement of the principal was “entirely false”.

Ms Justice Roberts told Burke he could have challenged the decision to suspend him at an earlier stage, and that he was now seeking to “re-run” arguments he made at previous hearings.

She said the application was “procedurally misconceived”, but that as he was a lay litigant, she would consider it.

Ms Justice Roberts said that while Burke was entitled to his religious beliefs, which were “genuinely held”, they were not attacked by the decision of the school to put him on paid administrative leave.

She gave Burke an opportunity to purge his contempt but he said he could not do that.

He said: “The court is asking me to purge my contempt but the court has robbed me of my constitutional rights.

“I do think it is a gross injustice that the plaintiff and the court is seeking to deny me my religious beliefs and take away something that ultimately guaranteed.

“I go back to jail as a law-abiding subject of this state always but a subject of God first.”

The judge said the two issues should not be conflated, and that Burke was in jail because he had violated court orders.

Rosemary Mallon, barrister for the school, said the applications were not about transgenderism but about his failure to follow lawful directions of the school’s board of management and to comply with court orders.

She said Burke’s application sought to render moot the court’s previous orders.

“The defendant in previous hearings has indicated he does not intend to purge contempt. He is, by this application, seeking to be released from prison without purging contempt,” Ms Mallon added.