Northern Ireland

NI newspapers: Spoonful of sugar and victims' bitter pill

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

Thursday's papers focus on hospital junk food and a claim that abuse victims are being used as a "political football" in the Stormont standoff.

A spoonful of sugar might help the medicine go down, but health trusts have been accused of "cashing in" on the public's unhealthy snack habit.

The Belfast Telegraph says hospital vending machines made a total of £2.6m in sales in the past five years.

It adds many of the machines are packed with sugary and high-fat snacks.

Machines 'out of order'

The paper points out that the machines are catering for a population in which almost two-thirds of adults are overweight, and where obesity is costing the public purse about £460m a year.

Tam Fry, the ironically-named chair of the UK's National Obesity Forum, tells the paper: "Profits can be made from vending machines selling healthy items, but hospitals stocking food in them which is high in fat, sugar or salt is out of order.

"Patients are in hospital to get better and should not have access to food which may well have sent them there in the first place."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Health bosses have been criticised for making money from unhealthy snacks

The News Letter leads with a call for the resignation of Secretary of State Karen Bradley over the treatment of victims of historical institutional abuse.

A 2017 public inquiry into child abuse in state and church-run children's homes and other residential institutions recommended compensation and an official apology for victims.

However, the recommendations of the Historical Abuse Inquiry have not been acted upon because Stormont collapsed around the same time.

The paper says the secretary of state has been under "mounting pressure" to use her authority to authorise the payments in the absence of devolution.

'Unfit to govern'

But now victims' groups have reacted angrily to a letter from Mrs Bradley, informing them that their issue would instead be added to the agenda of the latest Stormont talks.

Abuse survivor Margaret McGuckin tells the News Letter: "It's time for her to go - she's unfit to govern here."

The front page of the Irish News speculates that the son of a Troubles murder victim is set to become the next lord mayor of Belfast.

Sinn Féin's John Finucane, who has only just been elected to Belfast City Council, has been nominated by his party to take up the chains of office.

Image caption John Finucane was elected on the first count in the council elections earlier this month

His father, high profile solicitor Pat Finucane, was shot dead by loyalists in 1989 while his young children hid in terror under their kitchen table,

John Finucane said that should he be elected as lord mayor, he would "put human rights and social justice at the heart of my term in office, standing up for all".

Sticking with historical inquiries, the Daily Mirror reports that the new defence secretary wants to extend new laws to Northern Ireland which would set a 10-year limit on the ability to prosecute members of the armed forces for alleged offences committed in the line of duty.

Penny Mordaunt said she wanted to stop the "chilling effect" of historical prosecutions on veterans who "deserve our care and respect".

The paper says she intends to create a "statutory presumption" against prosecution for incidents which occurred more than 10 years earlier, unless there are exceptional circumstances such as new evidence.

The proposed law currently excludes troops who served in Northern Ireland but the defence secretary says she will make it her "personal priority" to resolve the issue for veterans.

Can a robot really help to prevent loneliness among elderly people?

Image copyright PA
Image caption Stevie II with Brendan Crean, who helped trial the robot through the charity ALONE

The News Letter reports that engineers at Trinity College Dublin have produced a new robot that can "interact intelligently with humans and its surrounding environment".

Named Stevie II, the machine has facial and voice recognition features and can reply to commands.

Its creators hope it can be deployed in care homes, or supplied to older people living alone, where it could help with menial tasks and remind them to take medication.

Artificial intelligence specialist Niamh Donnelly tells the paper that human reactions to the robot have led engineers to concentrate on the "social aspect" of the technology.

"When we brought Stevie around people, rather than them expecting him to pick something up for them, they really just wanted to interact with Stevie, have a conversation with him or get some information from him," she explained.

'So proud'

Finally, the Belfast Telegraph has a remarkable story about one family's refusal to give up on their disabled son.

Just before his 10th birthday, Liam McCallum was playing football with his friends when he was hit by a car and suffered "catastrophic" brain damage.

"Doctors advised us to turn off Liam's life support machine," his mother Natasha tells the paper.

"They said it was best for everyone, but we knew he was a fighter and asked them to keep it on."

Almost two-and-a-half years on, the Bushmills boy has defied medical opinion and his family say he is "getting stronger week by week".

The 12-year-old has been able to get to his feet with the help of a special walking frame and his parents hope that one day, he will walk independently again.

"We know that there isn't going to be an overnight miracle and that progress will be slow but we hope he will get there," his mum says.

"He has the biggest smile on his face all the time too and never gives up, which makes us so proud of him."