Sean Murray: Enoch Burke 'can't win the game by running away with the ball', says judge

Teacher spent just one out of four days in court, but family’s presence was unmistakable, says Sean Murray
Sean Murray: Enoch Burke 'can't win the game by running away with the ball', says judge

Enoch Burke with his sister Ammi, brother Isaac, and mother Martina outside the High Court in Dublin on Friday. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA

“It’s not funny, judge,” Enoch Burke declared in court.

He had had his arms outstretched, documents in each hand, telling the court of a discovery he had made “to his horror” that documents related to the case had been “tampered with”.

With the aid of prompts from siblings Isaac and Ammi, Mr Burke put forth his arguments at length. Their mother Martina sat
behind him, smiling and nodding.

The problem was that the judge had already given a ruling on the matter. He had ruled against Mr Burke. These issues could be ironed out, he said. He wanted to get on with the trial.

However, Mr Justice Alexander Owens was not succeeding. Mr Burke could not let it lie and was “begging” the court to “do justice” in what he had raised. He would not drop it and kept going.

“Please, Mr Burke,” said Mr Justice Owens. “Please. That document hasn’t been tampered with. A line has been run through it.

“It’s obviously clear I’m ineffective as a judge. There’s no question that you’re going to pay a blind bit of notice to what I do.”

That roughly two hours on Tuesday was where the drama peaked as the case of the board of management of Wilson’s Hospital School and Mr Burke, around his suspension last year, finally made it to hearing at the High Court.

On the other side, for the school, senior counsel Mark Connaughton suggested that “nobody should have to listen to this”.

Mr Justice Owens at one stage suggested to Mr Burke that he was “making a fool” of himself and had “wasted a day” of the trial with “flimsy” and “stupid” arguments. The judge also suggested he would “test the patience of Job”.

He told Mr Burke he had two options — “to participate in the trial or simply leave”.

“I will not direct he be arrested,” he said. “I will direct he not be permitted to return to the court.

“You’ve been in contempt of court for an hour and a half, two hours. I’m afraid it’s bye bye to you.”

Mr Justice Owens made Mr Burke an offer that was essentially “you can come back into court if you behave yourself”. He reiterated it multiple times each day the case continued during the week at the High Court in Dublin.

Mr Burke did not take up this offer as the case proceeded in his absence. A witness he had subpoenaed to attend, Most Rev Patricia Storey, sat in court throughout the week, but was not called to give evidence as Mr Burke was not in court.

Instead, we heard from just four witnesses — former Wilson’s Hospital School principal Niamh McShane, current deputy principal John Galligan, school guidance counsellor Freda Malone, and witness Catherine Gibson Brabazon.

This would be where we would hear further details of the case, many of which are in the public domain already.

We knew that the principal of the school sent a request to staff that a student be addressed by a different name and pronoun, as per that pupil’s request.

We knew that Mr Burke took grave exception to this. We knew there were a number of incidents where he implored the principal to withdraw this request.


The court heard a great deal about Mr Burke and family members during the week.

It heard a claim that Mr Burke was “in tears” the day after the request was given and after the year head had addressed students on the issue.

It heard allegations that he “erupted” at a staff meeting later that day and how he was “agitated”.

It heard the claim that Mr Burke launched a “very personal attack” on Ms McShane.

It heard Ms McShane say that she could “feel his spittle” when he came to her following a special dinner at the school.

It heard the submission from the school that it acted properly in suspending, and then dismissing, him.

However, it did not hear any attempt by Mr Burke to cross-examine or refute these claims.

Having seemed like he may not appear at all before the end, there he was early yesterday afternoon.

From where reporters were seated, you could literally see him from the window just outside the Four Courts.

He was reading out an email, which the judge had already read out in court, about how he had been denied a fair hearing.

He said the judge had laughed, mocked, and ridiculed him. He said the judge wanted to make him accept that the issues he raised were “flimsy, stupid, and a waste of time”. This was something Mr Burke said he could not accept.

In front of the cameras, he read out the mail. He and his family then walked, not into the building, but down the quays and away from the area.

Enoch Burke and his sister Ammi Burke arriving at the High Court for the legal case between Mr Burke and Wilson's Hospital School. Picture: Niall Carson/PA
Enoch Burke and his sister Ammi Burke arriving at the High Court for the legal case between Mr Burke and Wilson's Hospital School. Picture: Niall Carson/PA

After reading the mail himself, Mr Justice Owens said that Mr Burke could have come in and they “could’ve had an intelligent, frank, informed exchange of views”.

In lieu of Mr Burke returning to court, the case closed with the judge saying he was tempted to issue his judgement there and then, but opted not to.

It will be a little while at least until that judgement is delivered.

Having indulged in many allusions to describe matters during the week, Mr Justice Owens permitted himself one more on the last day, having read through Mr Burke’s letter.

“You cannot hope to win a game of soccer by running away with the ball,” he said.

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