Mick Clifford: Where now for the Burkes, who can’t help getting in their own way?

Mick Clifford: Where now for the Burkes, who can’t help getting in their own way?

Where now for the Burkes, probably Ireland’s best-known family? The sacking of Enoch Burke from his teaching post at Wilson’s Hospital School was inevitable. At 3.30pm on Friday he received the news in person from the chair of the school’s board of management John Rogers and the principal Frank Milling.

Mr Rogers is a farmer from Co Westmeath, not to be confused with John Rogers, a former attorney general and public figure of some repute. On Thursday, a huge chunk of the population was introduced to Mr Rogers the farmer through online clips in which his name was the subject of a type of Gregorian chant engaged in by some of the Burkes.

Enoch Burke (right) with his parents Seán Burke and Martina Burke on January 12, one of the days he has been in the High Court. Picture: Collins Courts

Enoch, his brother Isaac, his mother Marina, and his sister Ammi were gathered outside the door of the room in a Mullingar Hotel where the disciplinary hearing into Enoch’s conduct was taking place. Two gardaí stood in front of the door. At one point, the highly-educated, Christian, home-schooled family began loudly repeating the question: 

‘Where is John Rogers? WHERE is John Rogers? Where IS John Rogers?’  

They were apparently objecting to the hearing going ahead in the absence of the chair, who reportedly had been taken ill earlier.

While Mr Rogers may have been temporarily indisposed in person, his persona for the guts of 24 hours achieved the kind of populist fame that he never would have dreamed off when he took up the role of chairperson. 

Throughout the country, wherever people gathered, somebody stepped forward from a crowd, Spartacus-like, to proclaim ‘I am John Rogers’, only for the next person to do likewise. 

As one wag put it: “On this blessed day, we are all John Rogers.” 

Amidst such farce, the curtain soon came down on this act of the Burkes’ drama. One battleground has now been removed from their war with the world in which they live. If Enoch turns up at the school again, he will be trespassing and dealt with as would any unauthorised person wandering onto a school campus. 

(Left to right) Isaac, Martina, Enoch, and Ammi Burke at Mullingar Park Hotel on Thursday where a disciplinary hearing into Enoch’s conduct was taking place. Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins

While Enoch Burke had a reputation for being a competent and engaging teacher, another job could be a long time coming. 

Prospective employers might reasonably consider that, should anything go wrong, the school will be drawing upon themselves a family who are not shy about proclaiming their superior knowledge of God, the law, and God’s law. Would it be worth the grief?

Mr Burke and his family continue to propagate the falsehood that his plight is attributable to his insistence on standing by his religious principles. 

This concerns his refusal to address a pupil by the pronouns they/them as a result of the request from the pupil and the pupil’s parents. Burke says his Christian beliefs prevented him from complying. 

BRIGHT START: Ammi Burke, with her parents Martina and Seán on the occasion of her addition to the Roll of Solicitors. Ammi also holds honours LLB and BA (Economics & Law) degrees from NUIG. 

At that point he could have stood by his principles and acted with Christian patience. He could have challenged it within the school’s processes and, if unsuccessful, moved on to to taking a legal action to protect his rights, as he sees them. 

Ammi Burke could have helped

His sister, Ammi, a trained solicitor, would have been of great assistance. 

She may be at a loose end since she lost her unfair dismissal case at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) last year where the adjudicator couldn’t continue because Ms Burke and her mother kept loudly interrupting proceedings.

With their knowledge of the law, commitment to the cause, and unbending confidence, the Burkes could have made quite a splash in the High Court, attracting international media attention to an issue that is still bubbling beneath the surface of public life in this country. 

Their legal journey would have been a polarising exercise, but that would hardly have been a deterrent.

BITTER END: Enoch Burke arriving at the High Court earlier this week with his sister Ammi Burke. The solicitor lost her unfair dismissal case at the WRC as she and her mother kept loudly interrupting proceedings. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews

If they deeply believe that transgenderism is abhorrent to their religious beliefs, the Four Courts could have been the rock on which to build their church. 

Some would have found their actions stomach-churning but such is the chasm that has opened up in society.

So it would have gone had they behaved like grown-up culture warriors, deploying their intellectual armoury. 

Instead, they just couldn’t get out of their own way. Their conduct at the disciplinary hearing was true to form. 

In court, in the WRC, in school, the Burkes have individually or collectively stamped their feet and demanded that they be heard, that they know best, that they are victims.

💙A school for all💛
💙Supports for all💛
💙Acceptance, respect & inclusion for all💛
💙RES NON VERBA – Deeds Not Words💛#edchatie #WeAreWilsons pic.twitter.com/zNKUJA3mnE

— Wilson’s Hospital School (@WilsonHospital) January 20, 2023

Judges, adjudicators, and school management are all out of step in this family’s universe and, as such, are treated as if they are beyond reasoned argument. 

At this stage, however, the petulance has run into the ground and Enoch’s sacking has robbed them of a platform. They obviously have plenty to say for themselves but if they expect anyone to listen it might be time to change tack.

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