Enoch Burke. Sam Boal/
High Court

Enoch Burke to remain in prison after refusing to stay away from school

The judge ruled that Burke remain incarcerated until he is prepared to purge his contempt.

ENOCH BURKE WILL remain in Mountjoy prison after he again refused to stay away from Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath.

Burke told Mr Justice Mark Sanfey at the High Court that he would not agree to comply with what he described as an “unjust order” as it would be akin to asking him to deny his religious beliefs.

He added that he did not want to be in a prison, and said that his ongoing imprisonment was as the result of an order that was “manifestly unjust” and is an “unconstitutional misuse” of the court.

The case was before the court today, when Burke’s on-going imprisonment for contempt was in for review.

Mr Justice Sanfey, who directed that Burke be returned to Mountjoy, said that the court was not concerned with anything to do with the background dispute between the parties.

The court, he said, was only dealing with the issue of contempt, and if Burke was willing to give an undertaking to stay away from the school, which would secure his release.

When the judge was considering the matter, he directed that members of Burke’s family be removed from the court by the Gardaí for shouting at, criticising and interrupting the court.

Burke’s father Sean and sister Amii Burke were both physically removed by gardaí after they refused to leave the court, insisting that they had a right to be there.

Burke’s mother Martina, who at one point said she would not be leaving without her son, eventually departed the courtroom on her own accord.

During what were at times robust and tense exchanges between the defendant, members of the Burke family, and the court, the judge told Burke that “you don’t get to ask the questions around here.”

In his brief submissions to the court, Burke argued that he was only in prison because of his religious beliefs and that Mr Justice Owens’ order is invalid.

He accused the judge and other members of the judiciary who have made rulings in the ongoing legal battle between him and the school of “failing to acknowledge” his constitutional rights to religious freedom.

He says that those rights were breached when the school instructed him to refer to a student by a different pronoun.

“This is what this case is all about,” he said, adding that this is why he is “in a cell” in Mountjoy prison, despite, he insisted, having “done nothing wrong”.

After refusing to purge his contempt, Mr Justice Sanfey ruled that Burke remain incarcerated until he is prepared to purge his contempt.

The judge added that Burke could come to court at any time and give undertakings that will secure his release.

The matter will be next reviewed by the courts on 12 December, the judge added.

Burke was jailed last month after the school’s Board of Management asked the court for orders seeking his attachment and committal to prison over his deliberate failure to comply with a permanent injunction granted by Mr Justice Alexander Owens earlier this year.

Burke opposed the application.

However, Mr Justice Heslin ruled that there “was no dispute” that Burke had “flagrantly breached” orders requiring him to stay away from the school and ordered that he be committed to prison “indefinitely,” until he purges his contempt by agreeing to stay away from the school.

When the case came before the court today, Rosemary Mallon BL for the school said that with “great reluctance” they were asking that Burke remain in jail unless he was prepared to give undertakings to purge his contempt.

The school’s board sought Burke’s committal to prison over his refusal to obey Mr Justice Owen’s order restraining him from attending at Wilson’s Hospital unless he is given express permission to do so by the school authorities.

The board claims that Burke had attended at Wilson’s Hospital campus every day since the new school year commenced in late August.

The school board also claims that Burke’s presence at the school “is causing severe disruption for staff and students”. 

It was the second time that the evangelical Christian has been jailed for contempt. He spent over 100 days in prison between September and December of last year.

Following his suspension in August last year, Burke was sued by the school over his failure to comply with a court order requiring him to stay away from the school.
That resulted in his incarceration in Mountjoy Prison for several months.

He was released shortly before Christmas, without purging his contempt.

He started attending at the school again after the holidays, and the High Court imposed a daily fine of €700 on Burke.

Burke has also brought a challenge against the three-person panel of persons appointed to hear his appeal against his dismissal from his teaching position.

Judgement is awaited in those separate proceedings against the panel.

Aodhan O Faolain