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The authoritarianism stalking Ireland

A secular clerisy is silencing dissent

Artillery Row

“My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. Here I stand; I can do no other.”

These are the words attributed to Martin Luther, who in 1521 was excommunicated and outlawed by the authorities for his rejection of the belief that the Roman Catholic Church was the intermediary between God and man. Luther’s Protestant Reformation opened the door, albeit inadvertently, to the emergence of a new belief in the capacity of man to order the world in a rational and enlightened way. Five hundred years later, Luther’s protest resonates again in modern Ireland. 

A secondary-school teacher called Enoch Burke recently rejected edicts from the authorities which required him to act against his conscience. In a Church of Ireland school in County Westmeath, he was asked to address a gender-transitioning student by a new name and preferred pronoun (“they”), but he refused. As a result, the school authorities suspended Burke from his job and told him not to come to school. He defied this order and came to work, sitting alone in his classroom, arguing that he had done nothing to warrant his suspension. Burke, in the best traditions of protest, confronted his school head at an anniversary service to highlight what can only be called the institutionalisation of a new doctrine. How ironic that in Ireland, until recently a very Catholic country, another fervent protestant has emerged to reject the irrational beliefs of the new “woke” clerisy.

Buke has been imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail in Dublin

The High Court in Dublin granted the school an injunction banning Burke from the premises — which he also defied. As a result, he has been imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail in Dublin. Burke rejected the facile argument put forward by the High Court and the school authorities, that his crime was ignoring the lawful decision by school authorities to suspend him on full pay until a disciplinary process was concluded, rather than his questioning of the introduction of transgender ideology in school. When an education system requires teachers to contravene not just their conscience, but their rational consciousness, how can they maintain any authority in the classroom? It is a great shame that teenagers were not thought competent to engage with a gender-critical view around what is one of the most highly contentious debates of our times.

Burke might have support amongst ordinary Irish parents, but he is certainly alone when it comes to the mood among the Irish political class. The Irish Times columnist Jennifer O’Connell argued that “no one is asking him to change his beliefs, only his behaviour, and that the rush to make Burke’s imprisonment a culture war issue by the likes of Jordan Peterson and Piers Morgan was ignoring the facts. O’Connell and others misunderstand the link between belief and action — she might well consider the fact that if women had not behaved very badly 100 years ago, she would likely not have had the vote today. Had James Connolly and the other 1916 rebels not been prepared to act on their beliefs, would Ireland be free today? If people are not allowed to challenge the idea that the Earth is flat, or that a boy is a girl, for fear of being imprisoned for bad behaviour, we may be in for a new era of troubles in Ireland.

Burke has now been in Mountjoy Jail for three-and-a-half months, rejecting a proposal from the High Court that since the school at the centre of the row is closed, he can be released for Christmas. He will not purge his contempt for the High Court ruling that he must accept his suspension from teaching, and neither will he accept what he calls this “Christmas gift” from the Court. It may be that the High Court will force Burke to leave jail for Christmas and jail him again in the new year if he refuses the Court order to stay away from his workplace at school.There is a growing unease about Burke’s case even amongst those most hostile to his protest against transgenderism. As Jennifer O’Connell points out, in Ireland “the notion that the courts can indefinitely imprison an individual for civil contempt should trouble us all … Those guilty of criminal contempt are punishable by a fine or a finite term in prison. But since civil contempt is designed to be coercive rather than punitive the term of imprisonment is indefinite”.

In any event, there is a new piece of legislation about to be enacted which is incredibly authoritarian in its scope and will dramatically inhibit freedom of speech: The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022. This bill was published and approved by the Irish cabinet on 25 October and is making its way through the Oireachtas (Irish parliament). Justice Minister Helen McEntee hopes it will be enacted into law by the end of the year. The bill aims to make it much easier to secure prosecutions for hate crimes. Minister McEntee said: “This is a hugely important piece of legislation which will tell victims of hate crimes that we are determined to help them, and will also let perpetrators know that they will be punished for spreading hate, prejudice and division.”

For many, the inability to support the common sense view expressed by Burke and others lies in the confusing origins of transgender ideology, a mutation from what was previously a legitimate and successful campaign for gay rights. Although tiny in number, trans activists seek to transform our understanding of human relationships by winning institutional support for the abolition of language which we have used to delineate and inform our biological sex as human beings for millennia. The binary biological or sex-based language which we all use — such as masculine/feminine, male/female, man/woman, boy/girl, he/she, him/her — is now considered harmful, demeaning and discriminatory for transgender people. Instead, these terms should be replaced with gender-neutral pronouns such as they, them, yours, theirs.

In Ireland, the middle-class elites who head up the institutions of state — the political class, the military, the judiciary, the education sector, the media and sporting authorities — have been actively promoting this ideology. Seven years ago, Ireland was one of only four countries to enact legal gender recognition based on self recognition alone, which has resulted in 1,058 cases to date.

For too long Ireland was choked by silence and conformism

Why are Ireland’s political and cultural elites so accepting of this new orthodoxy, including parties which only recently pursued anti-freedom agendas on women’s rights and abortion? Perhaps the collapse of the old system of values associated with both the Catholic Church and Irish nationalism has left them unable to make the case for family, community and nation in a modern context. For fear of coming across as old-fashioned or bigoted, they huddle under the EU and rainbow flags and hope for the best. Others argue that Ireland’s political elite are hamstrung by woke American corporations, like Google, Twitter and Facebook, which Ireland has attracted as foreign investors. Keeping them happy means promoting values such as the transgender agenda and critical-race theory.

The implications of this new ideology are not just semantic. Earlier this year, a popular Radio1 programme called Liveline opened a discussion on the transgender issue. The response from the public calling in was so huge and wide-ranging that the show extended the discussion for three days. People discussed all the issues raised by transgender ideology: What will our kids be taught in schools? What will happen to women-only spaces, toilets, hospitals, prisons, sports? Should legal documents such as birth and marriage certificates be amended to reflect a trans person’s new gender? Who gave the authorities the power to make these changes? Transgender activists were put under heavy pressure to adequately explain and justify their position by ordinary listeners. After the discussion, transgender activists complained to the national broadcaster RTÉ. They argued that allowing the discussion to take place was itself transphobic on the basis that the Irish government had accepted that if a biological male claims to be female, then he is female, so there should be no questioning of transgenderism.

Unsurprisingly, this complaint was echoed among the country’s great and the good. Dublin’s Lord Mayor Alison Gilliland expressed anger at RTÉ, arguing that the subject was “being played out in the most appalling, disgusting way on our national airwaves in the name of public debate”. Such public discussion “actually hinders, and creates more division”, she added. The leading human-rights activist Dr Ailbhe Smyth agreed, further expressing the anti-democratic outlook so prevalent among Irish elites: “It is not the role of our national broadcaster to enable or encourage hate speech of any kind. If it comes up on the programme I can understand but that it is allowed to crop up again and again, that is a step too far. I believe that it’s important that senior management at RTÉ should look at that, indeed the board of governors should consider this matter very carefully.”

RTÉ dutifully launched an inquiry into Liveline, and the Irish Oireachtas threatened to call the programmers in front of politicians for a grilling. However, the issue has now been quietly dropped, with the understanding that no such discussion occur on future shows. Burke’s case is now mostly mentioned in the media in the context of an errant teacher who won’t accept court injunctions, rather than as a protester against transgender orthodoxy in schools. In Mountjoy Prison, in true Lutheran style, Burke has announced that he will never leave if, in doing so, he must violate his conscience and his religious beliefs. “I can be a Christian in Mountjoy Prison or I can be a pagan acceptor of transgenderism outside it,” he told the High Court.

Burke’s religious convictions may sustain him against this elite sponsored anti-democratic tide which is washing over Western societies. For those of us who wish to remain secular and free, the only option is to question this new ideology, in the name of free speech and common sense. It is now patently clear that if like Burke you speak openly to oppose transgenderism, you will not find work in the state sector and much of the private sector. For too long Ireland was choked by silence and conformism under one type of clerisy. This stifling orthodoxy cannot be allowed to proliferate under the guise of modern, gender-neutral robes.

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