OCHO RIOS, St Ann — Clergymen in this north coast resort town yesterday looked beyond their regular religious duties and protested the closure a popular beach, labelling the move "a backward step".
The closure of the popular Little Dunn's River Falls and Beach has sparked much discussion among residents in and around the town.
The property, which was opened to the public for years, has been fenced, the gates padlocked, and a 'No trespassing' sign erected.
This has not gone down well with residents who say the closure of the facility is an act of injustice to locals.
Yesterday, the members of the Ocho Rios clergy said they were prepared to mobilise their congregations to demonstrate if they are not given a favourable answer to their grouse.
The pastors — led by Rev Jonathan Hemmings, minister at the Ocho Rios Baptist Church — staged a peaceful demonstration in front of the popular beach on the One Love Trail.
"We are concerned about what seems to be recent developments at Little Dunn's River," Rev Hemmings said.
"We note that steps have been taken to prevent persons' free access to it and we are concerned that this might be preparation to siphon off this last little sliver of beach to private interests. This we would deem to be a travesty, because it is the last remaining sliver of beach to which the ordinary Jamaican has access in Ocho Rios," Hemmings added.
The ministers said the closure of the popular location for locals would be contrary to promises made by minister of tourism Wykeham McNeill to have the site developed and made safe for those who use it, including Jamaicans.
"This would be an obvious disregard for the ordinary Jamaican and can only be seen as an assault on our dignity, self-respect and a further eroding of our self-confidence and self-pride," Hemmings added.
He said Jamaica's celebration of National Heroes' Day next Monday would be only a farce, and condemned the decision of the Urban Development Corporation to use the National Works Agency and the police to stop persons from using the area.
In addition to the fencing and locking of the premises, 'No parking' signs have also been erected in the area.
The ministers said the use of the 'no parking' signs is not justified as neighbouring attractions are not given the same treatment.
They called on those in authority to address the problem urgently.
"The recent moves deny access and should be reversed by removing the locks from the gates, take down the 'no parking' signs, improve the sanitary facilities and proceed with the promised development for the public's safety and comfort," Rev Hemmings stated.
The ministers said they are willing to co-operate in order to preserve and develop the location.
According to one minister, he has offered to build steps at the location, but has received no response to his proposal.
"It's over five weeks and they have not got back in touch with me," Rev Robert Wilson said.
"It is not everything that is for big development and big company. We poor people must enjoy our country without problems of padlocking," he added.
"We cannot lock out Jamaicans from our local beach, that's a backward step," Rev Michael Llewellyn stated.
"We cannot deny people equal rights and justice," Rev Danny Russell added.
"We will see to it that it is preserved for the use of the poor people, especially of Ocho Rios. It is the last little piece of free beach and it must not be taken... it must not be taken from the people," Rev Carlton Mullings of the Ocho Rios Church of Christ stated.
Other persons who saw the ministers protesting showed their support by joining in the demonstration.