Regular readers will know that yours truly was never 100% sympathetic to the case of Enoch Burke. Sympathetic in that a school trying to compel its teachers to say things they don’t believe is wrong? Sure. Sympathetic in the sense that we should feel free to ignore court injunctions? No, sorry. Sure we could all start doing that. And, as I wrote on a previous occasion, it’s not as if Burke left the courts any choice but to throw the book at him, at least initially.
But that was then. He’s now been in prison for much longer than you’d ever get if, say, you stood on your wife’s neck and were in front of Martin Nolan. Or if you ran over a cyclist, and were in front of Martin Nolan. Or if you videoed yourself attacking an elderly woman and were…… you get the picture.
What we punish, in our society, and how we punish it, tells us a lot about what we value. And the simple, observable, indisputable fact of the matter is that Irish society seems to consider a dispute over an injunction as a much more serious crime than a whole array of sexual or common assaults.
It’s not as if the courts do not have alternative avenues open to them, besides indefinite incarceration. Again, just ask any alumnus of Martin Nolan’s dock.
Is house arrest not an option? Are escalating fines for every day Burke breaches his injunction not an option? Is indefinite community service, to keep Burke happily busy elsewhere in the country, not an option?
For some readers, of course, all of those things will, perhaps, miss the point. The bigger point, they’ll argue, is that Burke is in jail at least in part because of his refusal to call a boy a girl, as he put it. I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s growing harder to argue that he’s not still in jail because of that. There’s been a conspicuous absence of any sense of mercy.
It is worth, for example, examining the history of other injunctions: When, in 2005, the Rossport Five were jailed for contempt of court, the political establishment in Ireland were not so committed to the rule of law as they are in Mr. Burke’s case. Though jailed for the exact same thing, Fine Gael’s Michael Ring TD rushed to the defence of the incarcerated: “Ireland”, he said, “is now a dictatorship within a democracy”. Deputy Ring, mouth of the wesht, to my knowledge, has yet to murmur a word of dissent about the present act of “dictatorship”, though it involves his constituent.
If I said what he said about Rossport, by the way, about Enoch Burke and the courts, I’d be (fairly) accused of undermining the democratic process. Funny how there are different rules for different situations.
And that, I think, is the key point: I wrote a piece earlier this year about “the age of pretence”. I won’t repeat it all here, but if you want a more detailed insight into my thinking, go have a read. It applies to the Enoch Burke situation almost perfectly: We are all engaged – and by “all”, I mean the chattering classes – in the great pretence that Enoch Burke is still in jail solely because he is in contempt of court, and not because he is Enoch Burke, Christian Fundamentalist, and enemy of all that the ruling class considers good and decent. Nobody will lift a finger to come to his aid because unlike the Rossport five, who had a trendy green cause at their backs, Enoch Burke is an Orc of Mordor.
To give succour to Burke, you see, would be to give succour to those who cheer him on. If he walks free, it will not just be him who walks, but all those who stand behind him: The troglodytes, the “far right”, the religiously demented. And those people, in the cause of a better future, are to be trampled underfoot, for they are on the wrong side of history.
That, I’d suggest, explains a great amount of political thinking. If you ever find yourself wondering why Regina Doherty would go to Scotland and announce that there are nine genders, then I’d propose an explanation for you: It is not that Regina Doherty believes there are nine genders. She is a silly woman, not a stupid one. What she does believe, though, is that some day, perhaps long after she is gone, everyone will genuinely believe that there are nine genders. And when that day comes, Regina Doherty will be remembered in the history books as Copernicus or Gallileo, correctly proclaiming ancient beliefs outdated, while you and I, dear reader, will be remembered like the fellows who organised the Spanish Inquisition. That’s the instinct – legacy over logic.
Who then wishes to defend poor Enoch? Not Regina. Not Leo. Not Micheál. Certainly not Fintan O’Toole, or Una Mullally, or any progressive NGO in good standing. When the stories are written by the genderfluid authors of tomorrow, they wish to stand alongside Galadriel and Gandalf and the heroes of antiquity, not with Enoch, and the Orcs.
And so he languishes in jail still, and presumably will, until the school that employs him figures out a mechanism to bring that situation to a clean and legally unimpeachable end. And then, it is hoped, he will be forgotten, while history advances apace.
It is an injustice. And a great many of us know it.