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Enoch Burke leaving the Four Courts (file photo) Leah Farrell

Enoch Burke secures temporary injunction halting appeal against his dismissal

His appeal against his school’s decision to dismiss him was due to be heard by an appeals board tomorrow morning.

ENOCH BURKE HAS secured a last-gasp temporary High Court injunction restraining the hearing of his appeal against his dismissal from his job as a teacher at Wilson’s Hospital Secondary school.

Burke was dismissed by the Co Westmeath-based school’s board of management earlier this year.

His appeal against that decision was due to be heard by a three-person Teacher’s Disciplinary Appeal Panel tomorrow morning at a hotel in Tullamore, Co Offaly.

Burke’s dismissal came after he was found by the school’s board of management to have engaged in behaviour that amounted to gross misconduct .

He denies ever engaging in conduct that could be considered gross misconduct, and claims that his dismissal, and related court proceedings against him, are over his objection around transgender rights issues.

Previously, Burke had voiced his strong objections to an alleged request by the school to refer to a student, who was transitioning the time, by a different name and pronouns.

He appealed against the school board’s decision to dismiss him from his position as a German and History teacher at the school.

Appeals panel

In proceedings brought against the members of the panel Burke claims that the proposed hearing of the appeal was flawed and should be halted.

The three members are Sean Ó Longáin, Kieran Christie, and Jack Cleary.

Burke sought the order on grounds that one of the panel members, ASTI General Secretary Kieran Christie who is the union representative on the panel, should have, but has declined to, recused himself from hearing the matter.

Christie, it is claimed by Burke, is supportive of a policy that promotes the recognition of trans issues in Irish schools.

He also claimed that neither he, nor the panel have been provided with an audio video clip contained on a WhatsApp message alleged exchanged between the Wilson Hospital’s former principal Niamh McShane and the chairman of the school’s board John Rogers.

Burke claimed the message was a recording of a school service in 2022, where he publicly outlined his objections to a direction by the school to call a student at the school by a different name and the pronoun ‘they’.

Disciplinary proceedings

He claims that clip is important as the school placed weight on what happened at that event when it commenced the disciplinary proceedings against him that resulted in his dismissal last January.

Burke says that both he and the appeal panel should have been given it by the school’s board in advance of the hearing.

In a ruling on this afternoon Ms Justice Eileen Robers ruled that Burke had raised fair issues in his application and was therefore entitled to a temporary injunction halting the hearing of the appeal.

The judge added that she was making no findings of fact in relation to Burke’s claims other that fair issues had been raised by him.

The judge also noted the timing of the application, which she said had been brought on the eve of the appeal hearing but said that the other parties had been given advance notice of Burke’s intention to seek an injunction.

The injunction, which was granted on an ex-parte basis, will remain in place until it returns before the High Court on Tuesday of next week.
In a sworn statement to the court Burke, who represented himself during the application, said he said that the respondents had been made aware of his intention to seek the injunction.

He said that Cleary is the Management Body’s representative on the panel, and Ó Longáin is the chair of the panel.

He said that the third member of the panel Christie should recuse himself from hearing the appeal, on the grounds that he promotes trans issues in the ASTI and has worked closely with the representative group TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland).

It is unacceptable that Christie should be considered as a suitable person to hear the appeal, Burke claims.

He claims that under Christie’s leadership the ASTI has “unequivocally” advised schools to accept and use transgender pronouns.

This, he said, is important given that his dispute with the school centres around his refusal to comply with a direction from the school, which he said goes against his Christian beliefs, to refer to a student by a different name and to use the pronoun they.

Citing media reports regarding his own case. he said that the ASTI, which represents secondary school teachers, advises schools to use the pronouns that students request to be addressed by, but not everyone agrees.”

Burke added that in recent weeks Christie had also presented an award to a teacher for their commitment and support to LGBTI students, for helping a group of them to establish a sexuality and gender acceptance group in their school.

As the figurehead of the ASTI Christie, Burke argues, is publicly associated with the unions view on trans rights and specifically in relation to the Co Mayo teacher’s case.

“A reasonable and impartial observer would have a grave concern that Christie could not approach my appeal from a neutral and unbiased standpoint,” he said.

Burke’s second ground relates to an alleged failure by the school’s board to provide him with and audio/video clip attached to a WhatsApp message exchange between Rogers and Ms McShane following a chapel service that took place at the school in June 2022.

He claims the clip features his “respectful and measured” contribution at the service where he says he asked Ms McShane to withdraw her direction to call a then student by a different name and pronoun.

The school, he said, had a very different position on what happened at that service.

Due to the differences between the parties over what happened at the event Burke said the clip’s probative value is high.

He claims that while the panel did not ask for the clip, it did invite prehearing submissions from the school’s board on this matter.

Burke claims the school board has not provided a proper response to this request, nor has it confirmed the existence of the clip.

He claims that the panel’s failure or refusal to obtain the clip is inexplicable and amounts to a breach of fair procedures and natural justice.

Burke’s application is the latest legal, and often heated, battle that commenced in late August of last year when the school obtained an injunction restraining Burke from attending at its premises pending the outcome of disciplinary hearing against him.

Following his refusal to comply with the court’s order Burke was jailed for being in contempt of court and spent 108 days in Mountjoy Prison.

He was released shortly before Christmas and was warned about his future conduct regarding the terms of injunction.

However following the Christmas break he returned to the school premises, resulting in the High Court imposing a daily fine of €700 on him while he continues to breach the court order.

The school’s decision to suspend him was subsequently upheld by the High Court, and Burke also lost his appeal against that Court’s decision to grant the junctions against him.

Aodhan O Faolain