By Aodhan O’Faolain
THE current principal of Bandon Grammar School has told the Enoch Burke case in Dublin’s High Court that nobody in his former school was being asked to accept trans-gendarism.
Niamh McShane, former principal of Wilson’s Hospital secondary school, said the reason she sent an email to staff, which she described as ‘a request’ to refer to a student at the school who wished to transition, by a different name, was to comply with the school’s ethos of acceptance and to protect the welfare, safety and duty of care owed to the school to one of its students.
Ms McShane, who was principal and warden of the Co Westmeath school between 2016 and 2022, was giving evidence on the second day of the school’s action against teacher Enoch Burke where it seeks to justify its decision for bringing disciplinary proceedings against him.
In reply to questions from the school’s counsel Mark Connaughton SC she said Mr Burke had voiced his opposition to the request in emails and at a staff meeting.
‘We tried to find a situation where the teacher and the student could be supported, and we tried to be absolutely fair with Mr Burke,’ she said, ‘but ultimately none could be found.’
She said that Mr Burke had made an outburst during a service to mark the 260th anniversary of the school’s foundation, calling on Ms McShane to withdraw what he described as the school’s ‘demand’ to ‘recognise transgendarism.’
She said that Mr Burke’s ‘public’ comments in front of students, teachers, parents, clergy, and other stakeholders was ‘embarrassing’ for her personally, those in attendance and ‘horrific’ for the student in question.
In the days after, Ms McShane said she came to the conclusion that Mr Burke’s public actions amounted to gross misbehaviour and a breach of a teacher’s professional code of conduct.
While she was in the process of leaving the school to take up another job, she decided to initiate disciplinary action against Mr Burke.
Following a meeting in August which Mr Burke attended, the board took the decision to suspend him.
Mr Burke, who claims his suspension was unlawful, denies any wrongdoing, and in a counterclaim says that the school’s direction was a breach of his constitutional rights and was forcing him to accept transgendarism, which is against his religious beliefs.
His four-day hearing concluded before the High Court last Friday, with a decision to be delivered at a later date.
Mrs McShane took up her role as principal of Bandon Grammar School on September 1st last, having succeeded Ian Coombes, who retired after 23 years of being principal at the school.