Northern Ireland

Newspaper review: Political Lotharios and Fantastic Mrs Fox

Daily Mirror Image copyright Daily Mirror
News Letter Image copyright News Letter

The first TV debate of the Northern Ireland Assembly election campaign receives extensive coverage, if not exactly rave reviews, in Friday's papers.

The performance of the leaders of all five main parties is dissected in detail, but the Belfast Telegraph dismisses the broadcast as "lacklustre" and "humdrum".

The paper says Alliance leader Naomi Long provided a "rare moment of levity" when she called the Ulster Unionist Party the "Lothario of Northern Ireland politics" because of their fondness for electoral pacts.

The News Letter also noted a "striking lack of attacks" between the UUP and SDLP leaders as they tried to persuade the public they can form an alternative coalition to the DUP and Sinn Féin.

It says DUP leader Arlene Foster was centre stage but found herself repeatedly fending off criticism as the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme dominated the debate.

The Irish News describes the clashes as lively but "largely predictable" and says "nobody emerged from the encounter as clear victor".

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The performance of the leaders of all five main parties in the first TV debate of this election campaign is dissected in detail in Friday's papers

The News Letter also reports on criticism of Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill for taking part in an event to commemorate four IRA men who died 25 years ago.

The paper carries an interview with an IRA victim's son, who accuses her of "glorifying the cowardly actions of the IRA".

Two gun attacks in west Belfast within 24 hours are also making headlines, with the Irish News leading with a report that a gunman "fired indiscriminately" into a crowd of people who had gathered on the Falls Road on Wednesday night.

The paper claims the group was watching a car "racing along the road" when the gunman shot one man twice in both legs.

Generating heat

The Daily Mirror reports that a stolen car similar to one being "driven erratically" on the Falls Road was later involved in a crash with a police car in west Belfast.

The paper's Northern Ireland edition leads with the case of a Londonderry man who had been accused of committing terrorist offences in Syria.

Eamon Bradley was found not guilty of possessing grenades but may face a retrial on three other charges as the paper says the jury "could not agree on whether he attended a terror camp".

Elsewhere, new revelations from the BBC's Nolan Show about "dormant firms" signed up to the RHI scheme is generating heat in the papers.

The programme has access to the list of firms but a group representing RHI claimants is threatening to seek a court order to prevent the media from reporting the names.

However, the Irish News says the Renewable Heat Association of Northern Ireland is now "considering how to identify members who may be flouting the scandal-hit scheme".

And after all that fighting, the Belfast Telegraph praises the people of Northern Ireland's "famed generosity of spirit", or at least the actions of one couple who rescued a badly injured fox.

The vixen is believed to have fallen almost 100ft down a cliff at Ballintoy in County Antrim earlier this week.

Stylist Sara O'Neill and her fiancé wrapped the fox in a blanket and called a vet, who initially believed the animal had suffered paralysis.

However, the fox is now showing signs of recovery and has been dubbed "Fantastic Mrs Fox".