THE church of Burke is a religion that has heretofore been unknown in this country. It professes allegiance to the Bible, to Christian evangelicalism, but really the church of Burke’s primary loyalty is to itself.
Last month, the High Court ruled that Enoch Burke must stay away from the premises of his former employer, Wilson’s Hospital School, or face a daily fine of €700. For the previous three days he had been attending at the school, despite being sacked last week.
Each day, Burke’s father drove him to the school from their home in Castlebar, about 150km away.
On Thursday evening, as he left his vigil for the day, Burke spoke to reporters about the High Court ruling, claiming it was an attack on his “religious
What religion would that be? The Burke family claim to be evangelical Christians but sometimes their behaviour is about as far from Christian as one can get.
The family could reasonably argue there has been nothing unchristian about the various jousts members of the family have had over the years with college authorities in Galway, lawyers in Dublin, adjudicators in the Workplace Relation Commission, or High Court judges.
All of these individuals can take care of themselves. In those instances, family members were simply escorted from the forum they disrupted.
On one level, these disputes were occasions when many among the general public, irrespective of the issue at hand, enjoyed the sight of articulate, well-educated folk taking on pillars of authority.
Others who have done likewise often continued their protest by setting up shop outside the courts or Leinster House to proclaim what they believe to be the denial of their rights.
It would appear the Burkes consider such a route to be beneath them.
However, there are times when the conduct of some members of the family is completely shorn of the kind of moral stance that one would assume was a basic tenet of any religion.
The most egregious example of this was the inquest into the death of Sally Maaz.
On April 24, 2020, Ms Maaz, 17, a native of Ballyhaunis, died at Mayo General Hospital. She had contracted Covid on admission to hospital, but the exact cause of death was unclear at the time due to her medical history.
At the opening of the inquest into Ms Maaz’s death in Castlebar in February 2022, Martina, mother of all the Burkes, and her daughter Jemima, who describes herself as a journalist, interrupted proceedings.
As with other elements of society during the pandemic, some of the Burkes had taken a sceptical view of the virus and the measures imposed to tackle it.
A not inconsiderable constituency of citizens took such a stance and it could well be posited that doing so was not in conflict with any religious beliefs.
“I am essential to this investigation,” Jemima Burke told the coroner Patrick O’Connor, according to the court report.
The coroner replied that he was not prepared to listen to her “ranting and raving”.
“You have contacted me by telephone and I told you that I am not prepared to have you or your mother or any of your supporters interfere with the proper investigation of the death of the unfortunate Sally Maaz,” Mr O’Connor said.
Ms Burke continued to shout at Mr O’Connor. “We want justice here today, we want the truth.”
Mr O’Connor replied: “You are a perversion to all that is right and righteous. Think of this poor family that you are causing such hurt. I’m not prepared to listen to the perverted nature of your allegations.”
Jemima and Martina Burke were removed from the court by gardaí.
When the inquest concluded the following April, both women were again in attendance, this time accompanied by Josiah Burke. Again, they began shouting as Mr O’Connor announced the verdict and all three were removed by the gardaí.
The Maaz family had to be escorted out of a side entrance of the building by members of An Garda Síochána.
What scriptures read in the church of Burke would deem acceptable that kind of behaviour towards a family in the throes of bereavement? How could anybody behave in this manner towards a grieving family which was seeking out the circumstances of the death of their teenage loved one? What religion deems that basic decency can be discarded in pursuit of some abstract belief?
Enoch Burke’s conduct in the current saga plumbs similar depths. His problems arose when he refused to recognise that a student in the school was transitioning and wanted to be addressed by the appropriate pronouns.
This stance was taken in deference to what he called his “religious beliefs”.
He followed through, disrupted a school gathering, defied the law, and went to prison for refusing to observe a court order.
Even on his release ahead of the Christmas break, after 108 days in prison, he could have reassessed his approach in the context of his beliefs. He chose not to.
On January 13, the Wilson’s Hospital School’s student council attempted to hand him a letter expressing its concerns, particularly for LGBT students.
“Students are scared that you may say something harmful to them for further publicity,” the letter read.
“Students feel that they can’t be themselves around you and have to change the way they act. We should not have to do this.”
Burke quite obviously did not pose a threat to any students, but their perceptions were generated as a result of how he has conducted himself thus far in this saga since it first blew up last September.
Reportedly, Enoch Burke would not accept delivery of the letter. He has repeatedly stated that his only desire is to teach, to impart his knowledge to students, yet he would not even acknowledge concerns that these students, some of whom quite obviously feel vulnerable, have about his behaviour.
Instead, he is elevating the issue of gender to the top of the hierarchy of beliefs to which he claims to subscribe. By any standards, that is surely a perversion of the basic tenets of Christianity, whatever about the church of Burke.
In his ruling on Thursday, Judge Brian O’Moore said he considered Burke was “exploiting his imprisonment for his own ends” so the court was going to issue the fine instead.
On Friday, the ex-employee turned up at the school again. If he continues to do so, and irrespective of the debt he may be amassing, surely a time will come when the court has no option but to consider imprisonment again as the only measure which will ensure the school will be able to carry on its work unimpeded.