The following article is published in the latest Irish Foreign Affairs. You can read and subscribe using the links.
Enoch Burke Deserves Public Support
Enoch Burke is a teacher who refused to “affirm” a decision by a teenage student at his school to change gender and be called by a different name. He also refused to refer to the same student using the pronoun, “they”. Burke is a committed Christian of a Protestant denomination usually described as fundamentalist. When he defied a Court Order to stay away from the school, he was sent to Mountjoy Prison for Contempt of Court. Eventually released after spending 108 days behind bars, he continues, at time of writing (8 January), to turn up for school without being allowed to teach.
By single-handedly defying the school authorities, the Department of Education, the Courts, the media and the prevailing political climate, Burke is making a stand against a modern form of intolerance. He is asserting his right to religious freedom—he believes that changing gender breaches the laws of God—but he is also providing a valuable oppositional function in circumstances where the political system defaulted on that responsibility.
Even in the times when the institutional Churches exerted immense social power in Irish society, religious freedom as between the different faiths was recognised in law and in practice dating back to the first half of the nineteenth century. Protestant children with no choice but to attend their local Catholic-run National Schools, had a right to opt out of religious instruction, a right that was widely availed of. Modern liberal Ireland does not allow a corresponding right of conscientious dissent to individuals who do not wish to be implicated in Transgenderism.
If Enoch Burke—one of many members of staff at Wilson’s Hospital Church of Ireland Secondary School, who teach the student in question—was to opt out of the demand that affirm the intention to change gender by him/her, that student’s position would not be significantly affected. People who undergo the process of changing gender are not prevented from doing so by the existence of individuals who dispute the validity of the process. Allowing an opt-out right to conscientious dissenters like Burke would be in accord with Irish legal practice dating back to the nineteenth century.
When Burke was being released shortly before Christmas, statements by Justice Brian O’Moore were reported as follows:
“Several key decisions by Mr Burke during the litigation were “illogical”, he found, including his view the court orders require him to act in a manner inconsistent with his religious belief.
He said Mr Burke had wrongly claimed he faces jail because of his religious convictions and was acting in a way likely to prolong his imprisonment. It was difficult to avoid the conclusion Mr Burke “is exploiting his imprisonment for his own ends”, the judge said. “The court will not enable someone found to be in contempt of court to garner some advantage from that defiance”…” (Irish Times, 21 December 2022).
It is not clear from this that Justice O’Moore fully understands the depth of Enoch Burke’s religious convictions or his predicament as a Christian teacher. The dispute arose from Burke’s objection to being forced to comply with a new practice with regard to students who declare an intention to change gender. As he refused to comply with that policy, he was instructed to stay out of school on full pay. Being compelled to give up his professional responsibilities was a penalty for failing to practice the transgender policy. If he had simply acquiesced in the order to stay at home, he would have been agreeing with a penalty which he clearly considered unreasonable. The subsequent Court Order not to attend the school was of a piece with the compulsory nature of the transgender policy. In that sense there is a case to be made that he was jailed for his religious beliefs.
According to media reports, Mr. Burke and his family, by the manner they have conducted themselves in some legal proceedings, have failed in the past to respect the decorum required in a Court of Law, a serious charge. However, if it were to be the case that all of the judiciary, indeed all of the legal profession, were biased on the liberal side—such that an individual like Burke could not be sure of receiving a fair hearing—then the Burkes would be justified in treating the courts in a disrespectful manner. This is not fanciful; the concept of impartiality in broadcasting has become less and less meaningful in recent decades; intolerance regarding opinions perceived to be outdated or conservative is widely practised in contemporary society.
Be that as it may, the matter remains unresolved. The real question at issue is how far school authorities can go in compelling teachers to comply with a very ideological policy, a policy that presumably rests, through Circulars issued by the Department of Education, on the 2015 Gender Recognition Act.
Legislating Under the Radar
The travails of Enoch Burke cannot be discussed without examining the above-mentioned Act. In a public debate in March 2022, criticism of the Gender Recognition Act was expressed on the grounds that it was slipped under the radar without adequate debate in the wider society. An Irish Times letter from that time is worth reproducing in full. It states:
“Sir, – I refer to Dr Chryssa Dislis’s letter (March 22nd), where it is claimed that the Gender Recognition Act of 2015 was widely debated in Ireland.
In December 2019, a report on the current state of laws and transgender advocacy was published called “Only Adults? Good Practices in Legal Gender Recognition for Youth”.
This report was put together by the international law firm Dentons in conjunction with Thomson Reuters and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Youth & Student Organisation (IGLYO) and featured contributions from a range of international law firms and trans rights groups, including the Irish trans lobby group BeLonG To Youth Services. The aim of the report was to be “a powerful tool for activists and NGOs working to advance the rights of trans youth across Europe and beyond”.
The section on how gender self-ID was passed in Ireland is illuminating.
It recommends attaching campaigns to other more popular reforms such as marriage equality legislation because they provide “a veil of protection, particularly in Ireland, where marriage equality was strongly supported, but gender identity remained a more difficult issue to win public support for”.
In fact, the report acknowledges that campaigning in Ireland was “under the radar” and that “this was helpful because it meant that they were able to focus on persuading politicians that change was necessary”.
Debate is not encouraged because the more the public learn about, for example, the medical transition of children, the more likely opposition is to grow.
This is why the report acknowledges that in Ireland “activists have directly lobbied individual politicians and tried to keep press coverage to a minimum in order to avoid this issue”.
Dr. Dislis says that “anyone claiming that the legislation was somehow snuck in would need to have been living under a rock to have missed this”.
Well, according to the report I refer to, it is actually trans activists who are making this claim.
In fact, it seems to be a deliberate campaign strategy and one that they recommend in their pursuit of extending legislation to minors. – Yours, etc,
ANDREA KING, Dublin 15″ (Irish Times, 23 March 2021).
A notable point in that letter is the solid evidence it provides, through directly quoting from “Only Adults? Good Practices in Legal Gender Recognition for Youth” of the strategic mindset of some liberals. But this was only one of a number of letters voicing concerns over the Act and the manner in which it was enacted. Another letter writer argued that the Act “did not have the benefit of input from the most critical stakeholders, women and girls, who stand to be the most affected by it. Its full text reads:
“Sir, – Emer O’Toole’s article on the recently formed Irish Women’s Lobby and its webinar on International Women’s Day this week does not reflect the very many who welcomed it and found it both interesting and informative.
Writing from Montreal, Ms O’Toole may not realise that Irish women are well able to think for themselves and are belatedly realising that legislation was passed and is planned which has not had the benefit of input from the most critical stakeholders, women and girls who stand to be most affected by it.
Last month Niamh Smyth TD [Fianna Fail] asked, but didn’t receive an answer, about the implications of the Gender Recognition Act and whether or not it means that men can access women’s facilities and spaces.
Three years ago an investigation by the Sunday Times found that almost 90 per cent of reported sexual assaults, harassment and voyeurism in swimming pool and sports-centre changing rooms happen in unisex facilities, which make up less than half the total.
Here in Ireland, we already have three men with gender recognition certificates who have been sent to women’s prisons which house some of the most vulnerable women in society.
In 2019, 81 out of 163 transgender prisoners in England and Wales had at least one conviction for a sexual offence.
Irish women have every right to ask what consideration has been given to our safety in allowing men to “self-id” by filling out a form so that “the person’s sex becomes that of a woman”. – Yours, etc,
JILL NESBITT, Bray, Co Wicklow.’
That public correspondence, together with the Gender Recognition Act itself, highlights how the legal basis (especially through Departmental Circulars) for the compulsory requirement placed on teachers to recognise self-identifying transgender students, rests on a flimsy basis.
A Seanad Debate
Some interesting statements were made during a Debate in the Seanad (Senate) on the Report and Final Stages of the Gender Recognition Bill 2014, on Tuesday 17th February 2015. C onceivably, they could be relevant to the Enoch Burke case. Liberal Amendments were tabled by a group of Senators that included Katherine Zappone, Averil Power and Jillian van Turnhout, and a more conservative set of Amendments was proposed by then Minister of State (Department of Social Protection) Kevin Humphries (Labour) on behalf of the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition then in power.
Zappone was first into the ring. She had two basic points: that a review of the legislation should take place two years after its enactment emphasising the need to comply with “best international practice”; and a second point, emphasising compliance with “national, regional and international human rights standards”. On these points, she disagreed with a Government Amendment proposing a review of the legislation in a similar time frame but leaving open the specific details of the review. During the debate it was pointed out that refraining from being specific about a future review was standard practice.
Senator Zappone asked herself a rhetorical question about best international practice and answered it as follows:
“The answer is that in 2009, Thomas Hammarberg, the then Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, stressed that formal gender recognition should not depend on the assessment of mental health or medical professionals. Instead, transgender people should be treated as ‘‘subjects who are responsible for their own health needs”. Effectively, that was a declaration of international best practice by the Council of Europe. It is that kind of international best practice which ought to be reflected in the review of the legislation.”
Regarding human rights she said:
“In this regard, it is important to indicate that a view was expressed very recently by a great expert on international human rights standards, Professor O’Flaherty, who wrote in The Irish Times referring to the Yogyakarta Principles, as many of us have done here, and indicating in his view, as somebody who was there, who wrote the report and consulted with many other eminent human rights lawyers, the importance of self-determination regarding gender recognition and, therefore, not needing any kind of medical assessment or opinion in that regard. That was written just a couple of weeks ago and it is in reference to international standards that are there for us that we would like to see be part of the review, and ought to be part of the review, as distinct from what the Government has put forward, namely, that after two years there will be a review, without necessarily any kind of benchmarks or standards.”
Zappone’s points, especially in relation to international practice and the Yogyakarta Principles, were supported enthusiastically by Averil Power, Jillian van Turnhout and others. That some Fianna Fail Senators echoed her sentiments may be ascribed to the fact of their being in Opposition. In summing up for the Government, Kevin Humphries said there was no agreement on what constitutes best international practice, so a future Government should not be burdened with “having to determine the nature of such practice”. Pressed on the point by Zappone, Humhries reluctantly repeated himself and then replied to Zappone’s point by replying to Senator Fidelma Healy Eames as follows:
“I apologise to Senator Fidelma Healy Eames for not responding to the point she made; I will do so now. She referred to Professor O’Flaherty’s article. The principles were developed by a group of human rights activists in 2006. They were not an international treaty or otherwise binding on the State. They are not intended to be formally endorsed by states and are not being informally endorsed by Ireland. I believe the professor was the rapporteur of that group, and we need to put that article in context. I hope I have cleared up that element.”
What was strange about the Minister’s contribution in that instance was that it answered a point, based on an Irish Times article, that had been repeated by speaker after speaker in the Debate. He might have saved a lot of hot air by explaining how little weight was attached to the Yogyakarta Principles at the beginning of the Debate. Why so coy?
One further point from the Seanad debate is worth mentioning. In the course of a long contribution, Senator van Turnhout stated:
“I have read many different reports and articles. On 10 February there was an article in The Guardian written by a mother who did not give her name. She is very involved in a group which has a wonderful name, Mermaids, in the United Kingdom. It is a support group for gender variant children and teenagers and their families.”
The debate took place in 2015. We know a lot more about the British Mermaids charity in 2023. The following list of headlines and news snippets should convey the gist of the bad news that has engulfed Mermaids since September last year:
30 September 2022 – “Trans charity Mermaids investigated over ‘breast binders given to children’” (Guardian). The UK Charity Commission opened a regulatory compliance investigation into Mermaids after a number of complaints had been made. One line of complaint was that the organisation was providing breast binders to teenage girls, some aged thirteen, sometimes against the wishes of their parents. Another was on the grounds that chest binding is opposed by some groups over fears it causes breathing difficulties, back pain and broken ribs. A third was that the organisation was advising teenagers to use hormone blocking drugs on the grounds that they were ‘totally reversible’, a strongly contested claim.
4 October 2022 – A trustee of the charity Mermaids has resigned after reports he spoke at a conference organised by a group that promotes support for paedophiles. (BBC).
25 November 2022 – “The Chief Executive of Mermaids, Susie Green, resigns from the Organisation” (Guardian).
5 December 2022 – “Mermaids refuses to let staff see report on former chief executive amid ‘safe space’ fears – Transgender charity’s workforce had been due to receive a critical audit on Monday after chief executive forced out in staff revolt” (Daily Telegraph).
5 December 2022 – “‘Atmosphere of fear’ governs Guardian trans coverage” (Daily Telegraph): “Hadley Freeman, a former journalist with the Guardian, quit the newspaper after editors said she could not follow up the Telegraph’s investigation into Mermaids”… “She spoke to BBC 4’s Woman’s Hour about ‘an atmosphere of real fear’ relating to the trans issue at the newspaper.”
Another story that shines a light on the intolerance inculcated by Mermaids is an action the organisation initiated in September last year. They lodged an Appeal against the UK Charity Commission’s decision to award charitable status to a new gay rights organisation, LGB Alliance. No British charity had ever tried to prevent another charity from attaining legal status before. That case is still pending.
Senator van Turnhout was not to know that a source she cited in the Seanad Debate would run into trouble seven years later, but the Mermaids story does raise questions about the reliability of sources being used by advocates of trans-Genderism.
A well-informed conservative voice was conspicuously absent during the Seanad Debate on the Gender Recognition Act. Instead, a Minister of State tried to steer the argument away from scrutiny of an “international human rights” lobby, a group of liberal Senators showed their agenda to be a one-trick pony—the pursuit of an ill-defined and dubious international best practice—and a group of conservative Senators came across as unaware of the issues at stake in transgenderism. Compared to that cocktail of ignorance and virtue-signalling, Enoch Burke emerges as a defender of traditional values in a world gone mad.
The Gender Recognition Act is now part of the Law of the land. Yet cracks have already started to appear in the ideological movement upon which it is based. This can be seen in the closure of the Tavistock Clinic in London—which has been reported as being the defendant in a thousand law suits (see Misreporting the Tavistock Scandal, Irish Political Review, December 2022), and in the now exposed tactics of the Mermaids organisation.
No doubt Enoch Burke has been trying to defend his rights as an individual and in the process, bear witness to his religious beliefs. Unintentionally perhaps, he is also drawing attention to weaknesses in Irish democracy and an imbalance in the Irish media space. He deserves public support.
By Dave Alvey, writer and correspondent for the magazine Irish Foreign Affairs. You can read and subscribe using the links. Reproduced with the kind permission of the editors. This subject, which has caused so much controversy in Britain and Ireland isn’t about to disappear. The Workers Party has written and spoken about the issues at length. Let us hear your comments on this story and the issue more generally, by using the form below.