NUIG, the National University of Ireland Galway, has called on four siblings to drop their legal case against the university. Isaac, Kezia, Ammi and Enoch Burke received a lifetime ban from all student societies at the university in 2014.
According to the siblings, NUIG suspended them for misuse of funds. The Burkes were active members of the Christian Union and the Life society. The Life society states its purpose as being “opposed to any threat to the right to life of any human being.”
“Such threats include, but are not limited to, abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.”
Before the ban, the siblings had been distributing literature and putting up posters on campus relating to marriage equality, abortion and their Christian faith. Sean Kearns, the then Student Union president speaking to TheJournal.ie in 2014 said that the opposition to a university referendum on what the university’s stance on marriage equality “released some flyers and posters that have caused quite a lot of offence” that“correlated homosexuality with paedophilia.”
Brothers Enoch and Isaac were said to be at the stall handing out the controversial flyers according to NUIG’s student radio Flirt FM. Enoch was running for Equality Officer of the students union at the time. He received the lowest number of votes.
— Jim Sheridan (@Jim_Sheridan) March 13, 2014
The siblings deny their alleged misuse of funds and said that they will continue their legal action against the University as the family believe they have been discriminated against because of their religious beliefs.
Days before the hearing, the University in a letter to the family revoked their lifetime society ban on the Burkes and offered to seek no order on costs if the case was dropped:
“In light of the lifting in full of the societal ban our client wishes to make an open offer herein that in the event that the appellants agree to issue a notice of discontinuance in relation to the above proceedings, our client would be agreeable to the striking out of these cases and would seek no order as to costs against the appellants.”
The Burke siblings rejected the offer and pressed on with their legal case against the Galway University: “The University should never have imposed this ban in the first place and we are pressing ahead for justice.”
The Burkes have previously brought action against NUIG with the Workplace Relations Commission for the lifetime ban. However, the Adjudication Officer said they had not established a discrimination case on religious grounds. 17 of the 28 complaints the Burkes brought against the University fell outside of the statutory time limits. The family said that they felt the WRC had not handled the cast properly at Galway Circuit Court which ruled in 2018 that the siblings could pursue their legal case against the NUIG.
The three-day Circuit Court hearing started yesterday at Galway city courthouse. The family must prove that they were treated less favourably than other students and that this treatment relates to their religious beliefs.
The siblings claim that their posters were being ripped down, that they faced harassment and this amounted to an organised campaign of opposition against them. The siblings that come from Castlebar Co. Mayo have submitted several complaints to the college authorities dating back to 2013.
“The whole point of going to court is that the equal status acts are there to offer redress for those who have been discriminated against, and that is our claim against the university,” said Enoch Burke about the legal case.
A tweet by Josiah Burke said that Judge Petria McDonnell is not hearing the case today and that it is unclear when proceedings will continue.
Burkes v NUI Galway is scheduled for yesterday, today and tomorrow (18-20 June). Today the courtroom is empty, with Judge Petria McDonnell not hearing the case. There is no clarity as to when proceedings will resume. pic.twitter.com/4H8ZW4A327
— Josiah Burke (@realJosiahBurke) June 19, 2019
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