Northern Ireland

Antrim freemasons challenge suspension in court

Image caption The case is being heard in the Commercial Court in Belfast

Representatives from the Grand Lodge of Freemasons in Ireland have appeared in court to defend suspending two of their members.

Brian Hood, 48, and his father Stewart Hood, 67, from Randalstown are suing the Grand Lodge in Ireland after they were suspended.

It followed a row over a disputed proposal to sell its Northern Ireland headquarters in Belfast.

The men were suspended on a charge of "unmasonic conduct".

They are seeking to have the sanction declared void, which could then see them reinstated at their lodge in Templepatrick, County Antrim.

Disciplinary action to suspend the Hoods was first taken in 2009.

The father and son argue that rather than going to the Dublin-based Grand Lodge of Masons in Ireland, the matter should have been dealt with at provincial level in Antrim.

The Commercial Court in Belfast was told the Hoods were part of a "retention" team set up within the Provincial Grand Lodge of Antrim prior to 2009, to look at alternatives to selling the historic building in Rosemary Street.

Brian Hood claimed in court he was "effectively gagged" after forming part of the retention team.

The building, on Rosemary Street, features a mural by renowned Irish artist John Luke.

Brian Hood told the court he had been a member of the Masons from the age of 21, drawing "great comradeship" from an order that would provide security for his family in the event of any illness or death.

He claimed, however, that a dispute then developed between the retention team and others in the Provincial Grand Lodge of Antrim.

It was allegedly based on a board of general purpose deciding to endorse the alternative to selling-off the Rosemary Street headquarters.

"The Provincial Grand Master said we were not to give a report, we were effectively gagged and from that point on things went from bad to worse," Mr Hood told the court.

Questioned by his barrister, he said seven members of the Provincial Grand Lodge were involved in the "unmasonic conduct" charge.

Brian Hood attended a disciplinary hearing in Dublin, but claimed it was the wrong forum.

"The charges should have been heard under the Provincial Grand Lodge Board of General Purpose in Antrim," he said.

The judge was told an investigation into the alleged conduct is ongoing.

The court also heard that although anyone no longer suspended is regarded as being of "good masonic standing" they would still have to apply again for membership.

Grand Secretary of Masons in Ireland, Barry Lyons, also gave evidence during the hearing.

He told counsel for the respondents in the case that a decision to process the charges was taken after consultation.

Mr Lyons added that the action was in response to "disharmony" within the organisation's Antrim province.

There are more than 20,000 Freemasons on the island of Ireland and the biggest Provincial Grand Lodge is in County Antrim.

Brian Hood is a fourth generation Freemason at St Paul's Lodge in Templepatrick and up until he was suspended was also an officer in the Provincial Grand Lodge of Antrim.

He added he attended dozens of meetings and his father was a trustee of a masonic charity.

Judgment in the case was reserved.