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Burke outside the Westmeath school. (File) Sasko Lazarov
Court of Appeal

One arrest amid chaotic scenes as Enoch Burke appeal dismissed at High Court

Family members had repeatedly interrupted a judgment being read out at the Court of Appeal.

LAST UPDATE | 7 Mar 2023

A NUMBER OF members of the Burke family were forcibly removed from a courtroom by gardaí today after repeatedly interrupting a judgment being read out at the Court of Appeal. 

Proceedings were suspended after six members of the Burke family interrupted Justice George Birmingham’s remarks leading up to the judgment. It was the second such interruption of the day, and Birmingham announced the judgment would therefore be delivered electronically.

Judge Birmingham and fellow judges Máire Whelan and John Edwards unanimously rejected the teacher’s appeal on all grounds.

The injunctions granted against Burke, which are to remain in place pending the determination of the action between the school and the Co Mayo native, were found to be have been validly made.

Birmingham, who is President of the Court of Appeal, had told the hearing he  was concerned that the hearing was “an exercise in creating soundbites”. 

During today’s planned judgement, proceedings were interrupted after members of the Burke family interjected, accusing the judge of “bowing before the altar of transgenderism”.

Martina Burke, Enoch Burke’s mother, also made remarks relating to judges’ pay.

A fracas ensued following the second such interruption, which led to all three justices vacating their seats, and a physical engagement between the Burke family and around a dozen gardaí which lasted for around 15 minutes.

Ammi Burke, a solicitor and sister of Enoch Burke, was swiftly removed by gardaí, but a prolonged engagement between gardaí and the remaining family members resulted in in the courtroom being cleared, as members of the Burke family clung to courtroom furniture, and labelled gardaí a “disgrace”.

After removing Ammi Burke, gardaí attempted to remove Martina Burke. Martina, Sean and Simeon Burke, who all opposed attempts to move them on, were then all physically removed by gardaí.

During the exchange Enoch Burke attempt to grab on to one of the court benches before he was carried out by gardaí, while his brother Isaac sat down on the floor, before he was eventually dragged out by uniformed gardaí.

One arrest was later made in relation to the incident.

The five other members of the Burke family then left the grounds of the Four Courts on foot, and gave a press conference on the footpath outside.

Enoch Burke’s appeal related to a court order directing Burke to pay a €700 fine for every day he turned up at the school beyond 27 January, in contravention of a court order for him not to do so. 

Burke had been suspended from his post after he allegedly confronted the school principal at an event outside school hours last year and for protesting a school policy of addressing a student by their preferred pronouns. 

In today’s judgment, which was not read aloud in court, judge Birmingham wrote: “In relation to the suggestion that there has been an attack on the appellant’s religious beliefs, I think it necessary to recall the circumstances in which this issue arose.”

“A pupil in the school, along with the child’s parents, informed the school authorities of a decision that had been arrived at and sought the support of the school. The school was therefore presented with a choice: to respond positively or to reject the request,” the judgement continued.

“If the request was rejected, it would involve saying that the school would be a cold house for the pupil involved.

“The school authorities took the position that the pupil would be facilitated, and that the ethos of the school required that this be so. The school invoked its admissions policy and also referred to the Equal Status Act 2000, when explaining the approach at which it had arrived.”

‘Transgender rights’

The judgment went on to say that Birmingham is “of the view this case is not about what the appellant has chosen to describe as ‘transgenderism’” and “would prefer to express [my] views in terms of the fact that the case is not about transgender rights”.

“I cannot but believe that the term, as used by the appellant, is a somewhat pejorative one, as is his use of the term transgender “ideology”,” Birmingham wrote.

“These are phrases I prefer to avoid; I do not believe they are phrases that in today’s Ireland would find favour with transgender individuals and I would wish to respect their preferences in that regard.”

Justice Birmingham also wrote: “It also seems to me that the position of the child at the centre of the controversy requires consideration in the context of identifying where the balance of convenience lies.”

“With parental support, the child indicated a desire to transition. In those circumstances, while it is not inconceivable that an accommodation satisfactory to all could have been reached, given goodwill and flexibility on all sides, it would seem at this stage, given the attitude taken by the appellant, that it is not possible to meet simultaneously the desires of the child and the parents, on the one hand, and the appellant’s concerns, on the other.

“If that is the choice – and I am afraid that, by reason of the appellant’s actions, it may well have in fact come to that – I would be of the view that the wishes of the child and parents must prevail.”

Earlier this year the school decided to dismiss Mr Burke from his employment. That decision is being appealed.

The full hearing of the legal dispute between Mr Burke and the school over his suspension is due to be heard by the High Court at a later date.

Gardaí have since issued a statement regarding the incident in which members of the Burke family were removed from court, stating that they were called to the scene by the presiding judge.

The statement goes on to confirm that “a number of persons were removed from the court by An Garda Síochána”.

Gardaí said that “during the course of this removal, an incident occurred in which a female Garda was assaulted”.

“Subsequently, a male was arrested outside the Four Courts for public order offences and has been detained at Bridewell Garda station,” the statement concluded.

Gardaí have since said that “the male, that was arrested outside the Four Courts this afternoon, Tuesday 7 March 2023, has since been charged and will appear before the District Court of the Criminal Courts of Justice that is currently sitting this evening”.

- With reporting by Press Association and Aodhán O’Faoláin

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