Teacher’s assets could now be seized if he doesn’t pay fines by March 23
A judge has ruled Wilson’s Hospital School can take steps to enforce fines totalling €23,800 against sacked schoolteacher Enoch Burke for defying a court order to stay away from its premises.
Mr Justice Brian O’Moore made the ruling after reviewing the matter.
The school will be able to take steps to recover the fines if Mr Burke does not pay them by 4pm on March 23.
Last January, the judge imposed fines of €700-a-day on Mr Burke for as long as he remains in contempt of court.
His ruling means that the school can now take measures to enforce the fines, such as applying for the sequestration of the teacher’s assets. This would involve the seizure of assets and their sale to pay the fines.
In the ruling, Mr Justice O’Moore also hit out at the teacher for the manner in which he has conducted himself during the proceedings.
The judge said Mr Burke had claimed that he had “at all times conducted himself in a proper manner”.
“This self-praise beggar’s belief,” the judge said.
“There is much that could be said about Mr Burke's behaviour, but it may be sufficient to observe that a person who has refused, on utterly spurious grounds, to comply with a court order for some six months has not behaved properly.”
However, the judge said “the baseless traducing” by Mr Burke of at least three other judges should also be noted, as well as his conduct in disrupting two sittings of the High Court’s chancery on February 10 and 13.
On both occasions, Mr Justice O’Moore directed the teacher be removed from the courtroom by gardaí.
The school secured orders against Mr Burke last August and September after he continued to show up “to work” at its premises in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath despite being suspended pending the outcome of a disciplinary process.
The paid administrative leave came after Mr Burke, an evangelical Christian, refused on religious grounds to comply with a request from the school’s then principal to call a transgender child by a new name and by “they/them” pronouns, clashing on a number of occasions with school management over the issue.
One of those orders, made by Mr Justice Max Barrett, remains in force.
Mr Burke refused to comply with the order, resulting in his imprisonment for 108 days last year for contempt. He was released just before Christmas, despite not purging his contempt, and renewed his daily visits to the school when it reopened in January.
He was sacked from his job later that month and is currently appealing the decision.
Mr Justice O’Moore said he had come to the view there were two possible reasons for Mr Burke's continuing contempt.
“One is that the fine is too low. The other is that he does not really believe that the fines will ever be enforced,” the judge said.
Mr Justice O’Moore said the orders Mr Burke objected to had been found to be lawful by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
He said that taking “a proportionate approach”, the correct option was not to increase the daily fine, at least at this stage, but to crystallise the sums due as of March 1 and permit the school to take the appropriate steps to enforce the fines.
Total fines to that date amounted to €23,800.
“There are clear and obvious steps which can be taken, including the sequestration of Mr Burke's assets,” the judge said.
He said that an earlier application for sequestration was refused but the sequestration of Mr Burke's assets in order to enable collection of his fines was “a different proposition”.
The judge said the school would be “at large” to take “what steps it wishes to enforce the fines” from 4pm on March 23.
“Mr Burke will be at risk of such measures for as long as it takes for the fines to be paid. Needless to say, the daily fine of €700 euro will continue to run until the relevant order of Mr Justice Barrett is materially varied or set aside or until Mr Burke purges his contempt,” Mr Justice O’Moore said.
The judge said he would review the situation in relation to fines from March 2 onwards at a later stage.
In the same ruling, Mr Justice O’Moore awarded the school its legal costs against Mr Burke following a failed application by the teacher to stay the proceedings and a successful contempt application brought by the school.