Weekly newspaper review: GP crisis, 999 diverts and final editions

By Eimear Flanagan
BBC News

Image source, Antrim Guardian
Image source, Fermanagh Herald
Image source, Newry Reporter
Image source, Coleraine Chronicle
Image source, Mid-Ulster Mail
Image caption,
A note on this week's Observer group newspapers' front pages informed readers of the end to publication

Northern Ireland's local newspaper landscape got smaller this week with confirmation that 11 titles are to close with immediate effect.

They include names such as the Armagh Observer, the Dungannon Observer and the Ballymena Chronicle.

Their owner, Observer Newspapers NI Ltd, announced the closures on the front pages of this week's papers, which will be the final editions.

The firm blamed "challenging circumstances" in the industry.

For one veteran journalist, who spent half a century working for Observer Newspapers, the demise of his local paper was "emotional".

Joe McManus, who ran the Armagh Observer virtually by himself from an office in the city, told the BBC it was a vocation, not a job.

Image source, Google
Image caption,
The Armagh Observer became something of a one-man show at its office in the city

"I saw myself more as a servant of the public than a journalist, and I've shared in people's joys and sorrows," he said.

In its last ever edition, the Armagh Observer led with the death of a young swimmer who suddenly became ill during a training session in the city's Orchard leisure centre.

The paper said staff called an ambulance for 20-year-old Christopher Rogers, who was a member of Armagh Swimming Club, but he died later in hospital.

'Genuinely angry'

Northern Ireland's latest political crisis may be taking a break over the Easter holidays, but there is no such respite for the crisis in its healthcare system.

Another rural GP practice is shutting its doors because there is no-one willing to replace its retiring family doctor.

The Fermanagh Herald reports that Roslea Medical Practice will close on Saturday, leaving the village without its own doctor for the first time in 170 years.

The paper says that some patients will be forced to make "a 35-mile round trip" just to see a GP.

Councillor Brian McCaffrey tells the paper people are "genuinely angry" about the closure, which would add to the financial worry of patients with poor transport access.

The Herald's lead story is an emotional interview with the "heartbroken" parents of a four-year-old boy who died in a farming accident.

Thomas Magee was struck by a vehicle on their family farm in Maguiresbridge last week.

"I don't know how we will move on from this," his father David said, adding "right now it feels like someone has stuck a knife in our hearts".

Ambulances diverted

In County Down, the Newry Reporter has been keeping a close watch on emergency services at Daisy Hill Hospital, after the Southern Trust warned last month staff shortages have left the service "vulnerable".

At the time, patients were told that if the service was suspended, they would have to travel to Craigavon Area Hospital in County Armagh.

But according to the paper, the health trust had to divert ambulances away from Craigavon last week, due to the "high number" of patients attending its emergency department.

Image caption,
Craigavon Area Hospital is being prepared to accommodate extra patients from Daisy Hill, but last week it struggled to cope with its own patients

Most of the diverted ambulances were sent to - where else? - the beleaguered Daisy Hill, but the trust said that one patient was taken to Antrim Area Hospital.

The full 999 divert began about 16:00 BST on Monday 3 April and remained in force for over 15 hours, according to the paper.

'Down Right Brilliant'

On a happier note, the Reporter celebrates a £50,000 windfall for a Newry-based organisation which supports young people with Down's Syndrome.

Members of the group, Down Right Brilliant, posed for a front page photo after winning public support in the Big Lottery's People's Project.

The Antrim Guardian leads with calls for an investigation into a former children's home after a self-confessed paedophile admitted abusing a boy there more than 40 years ago.

It follows a BBC investigation, which tracked Henry Clarke down to Canada to confront him about child abuse he admitted to police in the 1980s.

Image caption,
Henry Clarke (right) admitted child abuse in a BBC interview broadcast last week

He confessed to abusing three boys from different care homes in Northern Ireland, including the now closed Firmount home in Antrim, but was never prosecuted.

The Guardian points out that Firmount was not among the 22 institutions investigated by the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry, "even though a self-confessed paedophile freely admitted that it was one of his hunting grounds".

Elsewhere on its front page, the paper reminds its readers that, as of this week, there will be a new focus to policing in their district.

PSNI officers started wearing Body Worn Video cameras in Antrim and Newtownabbey from Monday 10 April.

Officers say the aim of the new technology is to assist in evidence gathering and accountability.

It is being rolled out gradually across PSNI districts, following a successful pilot in 2014.

Image source, PSNI
Image caption,
'Big Brother and Big Sister' are watching you as police embrace new body worn cameras

In County Tyrone, the Mid-Ulster Mail asks if it will be "third time lucky" for the troubled Desertcreat training college project.

Planning permission for the site was first granted in 2005 and the initial vision was for a multi-agency facility to train police, prison officers and firefighters.

'Dicing with death'

However, the paper notes that the latest planning application is for a facility solely for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service.

Mid Ulster MLA Keith Buchanan tells the paper he is disappointed that it will not be the "world class" facility first envisaged, but adds it is "still a good boost for the area".

Inside the Mail, pedestrians are warned they are "dicing with death" in Moneymore because the Cookstown Road is not even "up to Third World standard".

The warning comes from Ulster Unionist councillor George Shiels, who is pictured on a bridge with a large, ominous-looking cracked parapet.

"What motorists don't realise is that the road they are travelling on may be in danger of collapsing any moment," the councillor claimed.

But the Department of Infrastructure told the paper the bridge cracks are "historic" and are being monitored by engineers.

The Coleraine Chronicle leads with a heart-warming story about the "remarkable" recovery of a boy who suffered severe brain damage in a road accident.

'Wee fighter'

Ten-year-old Liam McCallum was hit by a car as he got off a bus in January.

His father, Ali, tells the paper: "Liam wasn't meant to survive, his injuries were so bad, but he is stubborn and a real wee fighter and he's making steady progress."

The young football fan still faces months of hospital treatment but is hoping to get out for short breaks, with a school sports day and a trip to the Irish Cup final on the wish list.

It's no holiday camp for Causeway Coast and Glens Council however, which could be facing a "flood of compensation claims" from caravan owners.

The Coleraine Chronicle reports that the council was taken to court after it closed Juniper Hill caravan park over the winter of 2014 in order to carry out "essential" electrical maintenance.

One couple sued the council for damages because they were prevented from accessing their caravan over winter, and won £750 in compensation.

Portrush councillor Norman Hillis told the paper he was concerned the ruling could "open the floodgates to further claims".