Northern Ireland

NI weekly paper review: Local heroes and abortion on the border

Ulster Gazette Image copyright Alphamedia
Andersonstown News Image copyright Belfast Media Group
Strabane Chronicle Image copyright Strabane Chronicle
Impartial Reporter Image copyright Impartial Reporter

The festive period can be a quiet time but life continues and this weeks' local papers in Northern Ireland reflect that.

The Impartial Reporter leads with the death of George Elliot, a well-known football coach from County Fermanagh.

Mr Elliot, from Ballinamallard, died from cancer on New Years Day at the age of 63.

The Impartial Reporter's editorial hails him as a "great man" who did a lot for young people in particular.

Suspected drug deaths

"Campaigner's despair after five Christmas drugs deaths" is the stark front-page lead in the west Belfast-based Andersonstown News.

The paper "understands that at least five people, aged in their late teens to late 30s, have died in the last two weeks" in possible drug-related incidents.

It reports that the deaths are understood to be related to abuse of high-strength prescription medicine.

Patricia Brown, who lost her son to drugs in 2017, told the Andersonstown News that she was badly affected by the tragedies.

Image caption Terry Fox, from the Armagh area, died after being struck by a car on Moy Road in Armagh city

The Ulster Gazette leads with a story all too common in local newspapers - loss of life in a road crash.

It reports that the community in Armagh is mourning after the death of 46-year-old Terry Fox.

Mr Fox, a father of three daughters, died after being struck by a car in the early hours of 27 December. Police have issued an appeal for information.

The recollections of three Armagh men of the Kegworth air disaster, 30 years ago, is also on the front page of the Gazette.

Image caption The British Midland flight bounced over the motorway before slamming into the embankment, missing every car on the carriageway

One of them, Lesley Bloomer, told the paper that he would like to meet the man who pulled him from the wreckage.

The crash killed 47 people, including 29 from Northern Ireland.

The Strabane Chronicle leads with abortion, and the unknown effect the liberalisation of the law in the Republic of Ireland will have on the border town and surrounding areas.

The paper says doctors are "in the dark" about how the changes may affect them - abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland except where it is deemed there is a serious risk to a woman's life or health.

Image copyright Google
Image caption On this side of the Bridge Abortion is illegal except in limited circumstances, it is legal on the other side of the river

One GP, Dr Brendan O'Hare, says that doctors have not been informed of how the changes west of the border will affect patients in Strabane or "any arrangements that might be made for any of our patients".

Irish health minister Simon Harris has previously said that women from Northern Ireland will be able to access abortion services in the Republic of Ireland.

However, the Strabane Chronicle also reports comments from a Lifford GP in County Donegal, Dr Marie Therese McKenna.

Dr McKenna says abortion is not healthcare and that she is concerned the Irish government will compel doctors to facilitate the procedure in their surgeries, leading to professional repercussions.

Meanwhile, in its editorial, the Chronicle warns against "another year of stalemate" in Northern Ireland politics.

'Disruptive' politics

Northern Ireland has been without an executive since January 2017 after a bitter row between the governing parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin.

The paper argues that new ideas are needed the break the deadlock preventing the return of a devolved assembly and executive.

On the same subject, the Impartial Reporter covers the decision of Dylan Quinn to walk to Stormont.

Mr Quinn will walk the 90-mile trip to protest what he describes as Northern Ireland's "disruptive" politics.

He will begin the journey on Saturday hoping "to raise the issue again in people's conscience so that the disruptive political situation we have here does not just become our ongoing reality".

Honoured and flabbergasted

The Mourne Observer this week carries a remarkable, but tragic feature on how a County Down man experienced the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing in 1991.

Neil Powell, from Newcastle, was a search and rescue specialist.

He and his dog Pepper were involved in the search for debris and remains, having been drafted in to relieve exhausted teams working at the site in Scotland.

Mr Powell says he saw "hell on earth" and it was an experience that will remain with him.

Image copyright Neil Powell
Image caption Neil Powell went to Scotland to help in the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing

Elsewhere, the paper's front page focuses on the delight experienced by those people from south Down who found themselves on the New Year Honours list.

Among them was Anne McComb, a founding member of the Tollymore Red Squirrel Group.

She was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for her services to forestry and her fight to save the red squirrel, which has been under siege from their larger American cousin the grey squirrel.

Ms McComb told the paper she was "absolutely flabbergasted" by the honour.

"It is a constant battle preserving our red squirrel population, but it is just so rewarding," she said.

The Londonderry Sentinel has had a similar idea - "Congratulations!" is its front page headline.

The paper details some of those honoured in the north west including the former principal of Ebrington Primary School Nigel Dougherty, developer Pat Doherty and firefighter Hugh Kennedy.

Elsewhere, it reports that the Church of Ireland Bishop of Raphoe and Derry is preparing to retire.

Image copyright Diocese of Derry and Raphoe
Image caption Bishop Ken Good will retire in May next year after 16 years in the post

That means the Right Reverend Ken Good will be vacating his official residence, See House in Londonderry

The Sentinel carries comments from the bishop under a picture of his beaming family.

He says his retirement will be a "bittersweet occasion".

In lighter news, Andersonstown News columnist Fearghal Mac Ionnrachtaigh reflects on the season experienced by west Belfast GAA club Laochra Loch Lao.

Despite its senior men's team winning but a single game, drawing one and losing 16, their first season as a free-standing club was deemed a roaring success.

That's because Laochra Loch Lao is, uniquely in Ulster GAA, organised through the Irish language.

Mr Mac Ionnrachtaigh explains that the language is at the core of the club's ethos and the reason why it was set up.

He writes of the agonising decision made by many to leave their own clubs and join the new one for the sake of Irish - indeed, he was no exception.

In Mr Mac Ionnrachtaigh's case the ground of his former club is named after his murdered brother.