NI weekly paper review: Abuse inquiry calls and GP shortages

By Nuala McCann

Image source, Alpha Newspapers
Image source, Northern Newspapers
Image source, Fermanagh Herald
Image source, Lurgan Mail
Image source, Londonderry Sentinel

Victims of a paedophile priest calling for a public inquiry, a bereaved mother's plea for river safety measures, and concerns over GP shortages feature in the weekly newspapers.

The Newry Democrat reports that a solicitor acting for 17 people who say they were abused by paedophile priest Malachy Finegan has accused the Northern Ireland Secretary of using their plight as a political football.

The late Fr Finegan, a former teacher, worked in St Colman's College in Newry from 1967 to 1976. The Catholic Diocese of Dromore said it was aware of 12 allegations against the priest.

In the Newry Democrat, lawyer Claire McKeegan of KRW Law, was responding to a government statement which said it would be up to a restored Stormont Executive to decide what to do.

The paper reports that the law firm has been calling for a public inquiry into clerical sex abuse in Northern Ireland.

Image caption,
Fr Malachy Finnegan taught at St Colman's College in Newry and was later its president

"If it's good enough for Karen Bradley to get over to Westminster and get a budget in place, but she says when it comes to things like this, that it's not for her, I just think it's totally insulting to victims," Ms McKeegan said.

"They don't want to be named and shamed, because the government has a part to play in this too, because the Department of Education had an oversight responsibility in relation to all the schools in Northern Ireland.

"So it doesn't really suit them for a public inquiry to expose that they weren't properly overseeing one of their institutions as well."

A spokesperson for the UK government said it had "always been very clear in its outright condemnation of any form of abuse of children".

"The Secretary of State urges anyone with information relating to the abuse of children or young people to contact the PSNI.

"The issues at play here are devolved, and it should be for a restored Executive to decide on the right way forward. That is why it remains the UK government's overriding priority to see devolution restored."

The Ballymena Guardian features a bereaved mother's plea for more safety measures around the River Braid.

Leanne Fleck's five-year-old son Kayden fell into the river near his Ballykeel home on 10 February this year and drowned.

Image source, Fleck Family
Image caption,
Kayden Fleck was a pupil at Harryville Primary School in Ballymena

Mrs Fleck tells the Guardian she does "not want any more lives lost in the river".

"My son was out playing when he and his twin brother wandered over to the Ecos Centre as it is so close to our housing estate," she said.

"The access was so easy for them as there are very few gates stopping young children and because of this they can gain access to the river so easily."

The paper reports that an online petition in support of Mrs Fleck's campaign has already gained 1,000 signatures.

It says that Harryville Primary School, where Kayden was a pupil, presented Air Ambulance with £3,120 which was raised by people who came to sign a book of condolence for the little boy at the school.

'Narrow escape'

The Londonderry Sentinel leads with a hair raising story about a bus driver who got caught in high winds on the city's Foyle Bridge.

"Bus driver praised after avoiding bridge tragedy," reads the headline.

The paper reports that the driver of the double-decker bus had a "narrow escape".

It quotes Victor Christie who was travelling behind the bus as it got caught in the winds and swayed back and forth last Saturday afternoon.

"On a couple of occasions, the bus was virtually on two wheels and it was like watching in slow motion as the bus veered towards the central barrier," Mr Christie told the Sentinel.

He said he spoke to the driver who was "visibly shaken" and congratulated him on his superb driving. He replied that it was a "nightmare" and he was just glad there had been no passengers on board.

However a spokesperson for the Department for Infrastructure said records showed the average wind speed was 18.3mph at the time, with gusts of up to 28mph.

As such the automatic warning system would not have been activated.

Elsewhere, the Sentinel reports that Limavady is just one of three locations in the UK outside London chosen to host the World Illustration Awards Exhibition.

Visitors to the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre will be able to see murals, posters and children's books by artists from the UK, USA, Italy, the Netherlands, South Korea, Hong Kong and Israel, until 7 April.

'GP staffing issues'

The Lurgan Mail leads with the news that there were no GPs at the out-of-hours service bases in Craigavon or Armagh on Monday.

SDLP Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly is quoted as saying the Southern Health and Social Care Trust "must deal with staffing issues" after patients were referred to Newry.

She suggested that a further consequence of the GP shortage was that the emergency department (ED) at Craigavon Hospital was "very busy" on Monday night.

However, a spokesperson for the trust said attendances at the ED were "about average" for a bank holiday.

Image caption,
Dolores Kelly claims the emergency department at Craigavon Hospital was 'very busy' on Monday night

It said some patients did "experience lengthy waiting times because of the high demand for beds across the hospital" and apologised to them "for having to wait longer".

The Fermanagh Herald stays on the theme of GP shortages as it reports that another three practices are to be amalgamated.

It says that the announcement of the amalgamation of surgeries in Derrylin and Derrygonnelly, along with the Benaughlin surgery in Florencecourt, has raised concerns about the future of rural healthcare.

"The latest merger involves patients across a geographical area stretching up to 20 miles wide," it says.

Image caption,
Jo-Anne Dobson has donated a kidney to her son Mark

In a statement, the Western Health and Social Care Trust insisted "full general medical services will continue to be provided from all three sites".

'Mother Gives Ultimate Gift' is the headline in the Banbridge Chronicle, following the news that former MLA and Waringstown mum Jo-Anne Dobson has donated a kidney to her son Mark.

They had a series of tests in recent months, with the results confirming that Mrs Dobson's kidney would be a transplant match.

The newspaper refers to a tweet from Mark on the morning of the surgery, in which he writes: "Love you mum, you are making my dreams come true this morning!" before thanking well-wishers for their messages of support.

It reports that Mrs Dobson underwent surgery on Tuesday morning at Belfast City Hospital, with her son receiving the transplant of his mother's kidney in the afternoon.