Northern Ireland

Newspaper review: Tower block blaze and Frampton fight

The front page of the News Letter on Thursday
Image caption The front page of the News Letter on Thursday

One story looms large on the newspaper front pages on Thursday - the blaze at a block of flats in London that has killed at least 12 people and left many missing.

Police have warned the number of deaths was expected to rise following the fire at Grenfell Tower in north Kensington.

The News Letter, Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and Daily Mirror report that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is to carry out safety checks at all of its 32 tower blocks following the inferno which saw 65 people rescued.

The Housing Executive is currently refurbishing three tower blocks in Belfast, having completed refurbishment of one last year.

It said it wanted to "reassure tenants that any cladding systems which have been installed or are being installed are required to comply with the relevant fire safety regulations".

The Northern Ireland Fire Service says it has a number of specialist high-rise appliances based in Londonderry, Portadown and Belfast for deployment by crews in the event of an incident.

However, one senior firefighter has told the Mirror a review of local aerial appliances that tackle blazes in tall buildings must be carried out as they are no longer staffed full-time after a cost-cutting exercise in 2015.

The Belfast Telegraph has visited one of the tallest buildings in Belfast, Divis Tower, to gauge the views of residents on what it is like to live in a high-rise building.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Leo Varadkar receives his seal of office from Irish President Michael D Higgins

Retired social worker Phil McCullough said he was shocked by the blaze in London and would welcome a rescue rehearsal by the fire service from the top floors, while former picture framer Gabriel Murray recalled a bomb going off in the tower block when the Army were based in the floor above him.

Politics continues to feature prominently in the papers, with Northern Ireland's former Chief Electoral Officer Pat Bradley telling the Belfast Telegraph that only a more secure system will prevent voter fraud.

It follows the news that the police are investigating claims of electoral fraud after concerns were raised by the SDLP in the Foyle constituency.

"Politicians don't want to have a complicated system here," he said. "They want it simple. But if it is very simple, it is easily overcome."

Belfast bout

The Irish News reports that Northern Ireland's main parties will be in London later to meet Theresa May and Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire.

The talks will focus on attempts to restore devolution at Stormont by the end of this month.

It was expected that a DUP-Conservative deal at Westminster would have been sealed on Wednesday, but DUP sources have indicated an announcement was delayed due to the GrenFell Tower blaze.

The newspaper also reports that the new taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar has vowed to lead an Irish government of the centre and not "one of left or right".

Mr Varadkar has indicated a "genuine willingness" to work together with all parties "on matters relating to Northern Ireland and matters outside the state".

He is expected to meet the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Féin on Friday.

The Daily Mirror shows a beaming Irish President, Michael D Higgins presenting Mr Varadkar with his seal of office.

But there are no smiles in the photograph of Belfast boxer Carl Frampton and his Mexican opponent Andres Gutierrez ahead of their WBC world featherweight title eliminator on 29 July in Belfast's SSE Arena.

"We have looked at loads of fighters but this guy is a good fighter," Frampton tells the News Letter. "He is an avoided fighter and I will need to be on my game and switched on at all times."