Concerns about further protests from Irish teacher Enoch Burke were among the reasons he was placed on paid administrative leave by the board of the school he was employed at, a Dublin court has heard.
The information was shared during the second day of witness testimony in the High Court, which continued without Mr Burke or a legal representative for him being present.
It comes after Mr Burke was prevented from returning to the courtroom on Tuesday afternoon after the judge warned him that his behaviour had been in contempt of court.
The board of management of Wilson’s Hospital School and Mr Burke are in a dispute that stems from incidents following a request from the school’s then-principal in May 2022 to address a student transitioning genders by a new name and the pronoun “they”.
On Thursday morning, Mr Justice Alex Owens addressed the online function to view court proceedings and said: “Mr Burke, if you’re listening, you’re more than welcome to attend online.”
He said that he could attend in person but that “welcome” was only extended if he committed to obeying the rulings of the court.
He said he was “long enough in the business” to know there could be disagreements in court but that there must be discipline, which, the judge added: “I’m sure you’ll appreciate.”
As the deputy principal of Wilson’s Hospital School John Galligan gave evidence, Mr Justice Owens read out minutes from a board meeting where a decision was made to place Mr Burke on administrative leave.
He said he was doing this due to the circumstances of no defence team being present, so that he could establish the facts of the case.
He had not been at the service or the dinner for the school’s 260th anniversary, but told the court that former principal Niamh McShane had called him the following day to inform him of Mr Burke’s behaviour, to which he said he was “flabbergasted”.
After Ms McShane submitted a stage-four report to the chair of the board John Rogers and Mr Burke, which the court previously heard was done on August 15, he said a board of management meeting with Mr Burke was arranged on August 22.
He said that the purpose of this meeting was to decide whether Mr Burke should be suspended or not pending the disciplinary process, and that he did not believe any other actions could be taken at this meeting.
Mr Galligan said Mr Burke had attended the meeting with his sister Ammi, and that it was adjourned for about 10 or 15 minutes by Mr Rogers because it was “going nowhere”.
“They were still talking, they were still giving out and going on and on and on,” he said.
He said that the board of management then had a 40-minute discussion on what action to take, before a unanimous decision was made to place Mr Burke on paid administrative leave as the misconduct allegation was dealt with.
Mr Galligan said the decision was made based on past experiences and on concerns for children as the next academic year approached, saying there were concerns “about what the next protest might be and the form that would take”.
“We call it a health and safety concern, children witnessing interruption, disruption, protest,” he said.
Mr Galligan said that after Mr Burke was placed on paid administrative leave, the teacher had attended a staff meeting at the beginning of the school year and was seen attending the site.
Mr Galligan said that he had “regularly, at least maybe every hour or hour-and-a-half”, asked Mr Burke to follow his direction and leave the school grounds, telling him he should not be there.
“He would be there for the day, standing in the room reading from a book … That’s where he remained,” he said.
Recounting a disciplinary meeting held in the Mullingar Park Hotel on January 19 2023, Mr Galligan said four members of the Burke family were present.
He said they first objected to having solicitors present, to which the board then asked the solicitors to leave, and then objected to the stenographer being present, who then also left.
He said that they then objected to Mr Rogers not being present as chair of the board, despite another board member, Freda Malone, pointing out “several times” that she had been appointed as an acting chairperson.
“The Burkes constantly spoke over everybody,” he said.
Mr Galligan said that Mr Burke was asked if he would like to ask questions of Ms McShane or make a statement, but would not answer.
Mark Connaughton SC, representing Wilson’s Hospital School, told the court that he would look at whether a page from the minutes of the board of management meeting on August 22 were missing in the evidentiary documents.