Sunday, March 05, 2023

Religious mediator wrote to Enoch Burke in prison to open a ‘dialogue’

Dialogue Ireland Trust

The head of a group that mediates religious disputes says he has been unsuccessful in attempts to reach out to Enoch Burke’s family — and fears they will become more radical and entrenched in their views.

Mike Garde, who heads up Dialogue Ireland, said he was first contacted about the Burkes five years ago by Evangelical groups in the west of Ireland concerned about the family’s approach to religion and isolation from the wider community.

Mr Garde also wrote to teacher Enoch Burke while he was in jail for 108 days for contempt of court after he repeatedly defied court orders restraining him from showing up at Wilson’s Hospital School in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath, following his suspension last year.

Burke was suspended after complaints about his conduct at a school service and his refusal to recognise a transgender student by their preferred pronouns, they/them.

Burke has cited his religious beliefs as the reason for his refusal to comply with the student’s, and the school’s, request.

Burke was released from prison in December despite not purging his contempt, and then continued to defy the court order by showing up at the school after the Christmas break. He has since been fined €700 for every day he turns up at the school.

Burke is challenging court orders including an injunction to stay away from the school.

Burke and his sister Ammi had to be removed from court earlier this month after attending court and disrupting proceedings, even though his challenge wasn’t due to be heard that day.

After the challenge was heard, the Court of Appeal reserved its judgement saying it would not delay in its ruling.

Members of the Burke family have previously disrupted a number of other proceedings, including inquest hearings and Workplace Relations Commission proceedings.

Mr Garde said there is no end in sight to the family’s campaign.

“Each time they’re ratcheting it up further. When you do that, it has to end in tears somewhere,” he said.

He said he had been contacted around five years ago about the Burkes by other religious people in the west of Ireland who wanted to open a dialogue with them.

The Burke family are described as Evangelical Christians but Mr Garde said they are not a member of any church.

“The family are not connected to any evangelical church and do not communicate with those around them in Mayo. They are just an own-brand closed family group.”

Other Evangelical Christians in the area had been hoping to open a dialogue with the Burkes a number of years ago but these attempts were unsuccessful.

“Over the last five years I’ve been getting calls from the Mayo area and have been trying to assist them because they’ve found they can’t connect with the Burkes. We suggested they invite them to a meeting to discuss things but they’re so cut off that even family members can’t even go to the property to talk to them.”

Mike Garde described the Burke family as being like a closed system.

“I would say the environment of the family home and this extreme belief system have created a world in which they no longer connect with the world outside so they move in the family unit, which is like a closed system.

“It’s nothing to do with what he believes; it is a family group who are not open to outside contact.”