The internal workings of one of the most secretive institutions in Ireland, the Masonic Order, may be publicly exposed after a writ was issued in the High Court in Belfast against a provincial grand master and the general secretary in Dublin.
News of the unprecedented legal action comes as The Lost Symbol, the new novel by Dan Brown about the pursuit of “ancient mysteries” hidden in Washington DC by the Freemasons, hit the shelves and sold millions in its first week of publication.
The legal proceedings by father and son Stewart and Brian Hood has rocked the arcane world of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland.
Neither party would discuss the issues behind the High Court action but sources within the Masonic say it relates to serious disagreements and disciplinary actions within the Antrim provincial lodge that arose more than two years ago.
A writ naming Barry Lyons, the grand secretary of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in Ireland, whose headquarters is in Molesworth Street in Dublin, is expected to be served in the coming days.
Mr Lyons is named in the writ lodged in the High Court in Belfast on September 10, which afforded the order 21 days to have an appearance entered on behalf of the Grand Lodge. In February 2007, the Antrim provincial lodge was rocked after secretly taped recordings of meetings held in its Rosemary Street Hall in Belfast were sent in the post to members of the lodge. The PSNI was asked to investigate the incident but detectives told the Masons that they were unable to establish that a criminal offence had been committed.
Since then there have been attempts to resolve the issues that have caused friction within the Antrim Masons, which is thought to have around 7,000 members.
Within the Masons, the official line has been that the dispute was resolved through Grand Lodge-directed mediation, but the High Court writ issued 10 days ago by the Hoods against John Dunlop, the provincial grand master of Antrim and the general secretary of the Masons in Ireland, has stunned the membership.
Businessman Brian Hood declined to discuss any details of the action, but did say: “I can confirm that my father and I have laid the writ. We are happy to be Freemasons but are appalled at the conduct of the management of the provincial lodge of Antrim.
“It is our intention to have a court hearing. If we cannot get a fair hearing and justice within the Masonic Order, then we have to seek justice elsewhere and take steps to have injustice addressed.”
In a quarterly communication in June 2007, posted on its website, the Grand Lodge of Ireland included a minute referring to the dispute in Antrim.
“The assistant grand master reported on the findings of the sub-committee chaired by himself, set up to consider complaints between Brethren in Antrim and Senior Provincial Grand Lodge Officers in Antrim,” it said.
In June of last year, the Grand Lodge website assured members that the dispute in the Antrim Lodge had been resolved.
When asked last week whether the Antrim provincial grand master and the general secretary would defend the writ, a member of staff at the Masons Rosemary Street office in Belfast would only say: “We are not making any comment at the moment.”