All posts by Aaron O'Neill

Social Media transformation for North West 200

Over the last number of years, social media sites have helped to raise the profile of sporting events.

A number of different sports have introduced ways that fans can keep up to date with events even when they cannot be in attendance. Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter have been hailed as the go to places in terms of information.

As the 2017 Vauxhall International North West 200 approaches, Aaron O’Neill has been looking into the ways that social media have helped transform the event.  The following video gives us a little insight into how social media has helped the event.





Marquez on the victory march in Argentina.

With the 2017 MotoGP season getting underway, Round 2 of the Championship took place this weekend at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina.

Pre-race speculation suggested that three-time World Champion, Marc Marquez, was the man to beat around the 2.98 mile circuit. Marquez looked as though he was going to do the business after he put his Repsol Honda on Pole Position after Saturday’s qualifying session.

British hopeful, Cal Crutchlow, also qualified strongly as he finished up third on the grid heading into Sunday’s race. Crutchlow had previously had a taste of success at this event as he was a podium finisher in Argentina back in 2015 and was surely aiming to repeat this feat two years on.

After a lacklustre qualifying session, many of the so-called front-runners failed to capitalise and make it onto the first few rows of the grid. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and the eventual race winner, Maverick Viñales, struggled to come to grips with conditions in Argentina. A poor showing from the MotoGP stars resulted in them having to launch their attack from further down the field come Sunday’s race.

As the race got underway in dry conditions, Marquez looked like a man on a mission. He seemed to have re-gained his confidence after his spill in the morning warm-up. After 3 laps Marquez looked to be well away at the front after opening up a 2-second lead from Crutchlow in second.

Just when it looked like Marquez had it in the bag, disaster struck. The Spaniard crashed out of the lead at turn two leaving the door open for Crutchlow, Viñales and Rossi to battle it out for the podium positions. Honda team-mate and fellow countryman, Dani Pedrosa also crashed out of the race whilst in a steady fifth position. Both riders’ were critical of the new Michelin tyres indicating that a lack of temperature in the rear was the reason for them ending up in the gravel.

Some great battling between the front three saw Viñales make it two from two, to get his season off to the best possible start. Yamaha teammate, Valentino Rossi and Satellite Honda rider Cal Crutchlow completed the podium positions, finishing second and third respectively.

In a post race interview Viñales said, “It is great to get another win under my belt, my bike was working well and I hope this is a sign of things to come.”

Both Honda and Ducati struggled this weekend as Pedrosa, Marquez, Dovizioso and reigning world champion, Jorge Lorenzo all crashed out of the race.

At this early stage many people have indicated that the Yamaha boys will be hard to stop this season.

Round three of the Championship takes place in North America. Viñales will be searching for his hat-trick of wins in Texas.

However, the main question is, who can rain on his parade?

For all the latest MotoGP information please visit:

General Election Preview with the DUP

Ahead of Thursday’s General Election, the Democratic Unionist Party has urged the public ‘to use their franchise and vote.’

The people of Northern Ireland are still pondering who is the best person to lead the country forward and restore a sense of routine, ahead of Thursday’s vote.

Politicians have made no bones about the amount of effort they put into their campaigns coming up to elections. East Londonderry DUP MLA Maurice Bradley has been heavily involved in the election campaign, for fellow DUP party member, Gregory Campbell.

Bradley said, “There is a lot of organising behind the scenes for an election and a lot of preparation. Over 22,000 leaflets had to be canvased around the doorsteps. Therefore, it has been a busy time for the DUP in the local area.

The East Londonderry MLA continued, “It has been a busy time for the local DUP office in Coleraine ahead of Thursday’s election.

“Once the announcement came about that another election was happening, literature had to be printed and a canvas organised. Prior to the announcement, we had been working hard and organising Voter Registration events, which had been set up in local areas such as Macosquin, Coleraine Town, Ballysally, Garvagh and Millburn.”

The DUP have constantly been reiterating the point to encourage as many people to vote as possible and Bradley thinks that this is, ‘a necessary approach.’

He said, “As a party, our reason for running our registration campaign was to ensure that we got as many people on the register as possible in order to maintain their a voice in Northern Ireland. In this game, we all know that bad politicians find a way in because good people, who do not vote, elect bad politicians.”

It has been well documented over the last number of months the unrest which is currently being experienced within the Northern Ireland executive, with the Renewable Heating Initiative scandal being viewed as the final straw, by some of the political parties, who call for a change.

East Londonderry DUP MLA, Maurice Bradley, has said that the outcome of the RHI scandal may not have been the sole reason for the start of the unrest in government. ‘People recognise that RHI was not what collapsed the government, rather the excuse used to collapse the government.’

Bradley suggested that the media have questions to answer following the collapse of the Stormont executive, indicating that they are ‘partly to blame,’ for the recent events.

The local politician said, “The techniques of media personnel have been inappropriate. Many journalists badger DUP representatives, barely giving them time to answer any questions, whilst allowing time and space for other panel members to provide answers without being. The public have caught this technique on and it has backfired on the media.”

One of the main underlying issues is the thinking that the General Election may not resolve any issues here in Northern Ireland. The electorate have an overall feeling of anxiety ahead of Thursday’s election. One voter has said that the current state of affairs is the, ‘worst state of affairs in years.’

Lindsay O’Neill, a local business owner said, “I just hope that we can get back on our feet after the election results come out. Over the past few months, we have been thrown from pillar to post and we don’t really know what is going on, we don’t have any answers. RHI and Brexit are massive factors talked about all the time, but I would like to see this left behind and begin to move forward and worry about sorting our own matters out.”

The ideology of Direct Rule is something that has been rumoured since the collapse of the Stormont Executive and Bradley reiterated this point. He said. “It remains to be seen. Certainly if there is no agreement, we are looking at a period of Direct Rule in some form or another.”

Therefore, with Thursday’s General Election rapidly approaching it is crunch-time for Politicians on a local and national level. Voters can place their vote from 7am to 10pm on Thursday, with election counts set to continue all through the night. At this stage, there is no set time for results to come through. It is merely a case of waiting and whatever will be, will be.

For more information about the DUP click here:

Air Ambulance Dream Takes Flight.

From being the only province in the UK not to have one, Northern Ireland is set to witness a Helicopter Emergency Service (HEMS) take to the skies to help save lives. The news comes after the well publicised incidents at the North West 200 in 2015 whereby an Air Ambulance was summoned to the coastal circuit to airlift an injured spectator and rider to hospital. Thankfully, both Violet McAfee (spectator) and Stephen Thompson (rider) survived the horrific ordeal. It is believed, a sum in the region of £4 million has been allocated to help get the service up and running. Rodney Connor Trustee of the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance praised the news. “It’s fantastic news for the people of Northern Ireland. We have been stressing for a long-time the importance of this particular service and I’m glad it’s finally being put in place.”

Air Ambulance logo
Northern Ireland Air Ambulance logo.

Northern Ireland is home to approximately 1.8 million people and is the only region in the UK that is not serviced by an Air Ambulance. The latest introduction puts the province in accordance with the rest of the UK.  This latest development is welcomed news to those who have worked tirelessly to foresee that the dream has become a reality. Ian Crowe, a trustee of the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance said: “This has been ongoing for a number of years, I had been contacted by Arlene Foster MLA in 2013 to see if I could scope out the viability of the Air Ambulance service in Northern Ireland. Firstly, I involved the four other trustees’ and together we worked to make happen.”

Ian added, “We gathered information on the topic by visiting some of the other HEMS services and basically learned from them. Obviously we needed government approval so we put together the information we had gathered before presenting it to the then Health Minister Edwin Poots and Arlene Foster MLA who had approached me in the beginning. Both politicians were satisfied by our research and in August 2014 the assembly passed our proposal and we re-ignited the campaign in February 2015.”

The Air Ambulance is set to cost £1.8 million per year to run therefore the trustees’ established the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance Charity in order to help compensate some of the running costs carried by the Air Ambulance. However, Mr. Crowe outlined the Air Ambulance is a necessity in Northern Ireland regardless of the expensive price tag. “It’s crucial now that we have one here in Northern Ireland. We talk about the ‘Golden Hour,’ this is the most crucial moment after a trauma occurs. It’s the time when Paramedics transfer the casualties to trauma centres. Here in Northern Ireland it can take a long time to reach the nearest hospital, for example if a patient has to be taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast from Fermanagh, it can take a bit of time given the infrastructure of the roads in Northern Ireland.”

Ian added, “What the HEMS will do, is it will reduce the timescale from the place of a trauma until the injured party reaches the trauma centre. With the Air Ambulance a casualty can be at a trauma centre in approximately 20 minutes which is a great deal faster than land travel.”

MotoGP rider Eugene Laverty has recently promoted the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance charity during last weekend’s race at Jerez in Spain. Laverty displayed the charity logo on his leathers which helped promote the cause. The Toomebridge man steered his way to finish in ninth place onboard his Aspar Team Ducati during last Sunday’s race in southern Spain .

Rodney Connor another one of the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance Trustees’ has welcomed the news of the HEMS being introduced, Rodney said: “It’s a fantastic facility to have here in Northern Ireland and it’s something we have needed here for a long time. The Air Ambulance has already been a proven success in other parts of the UK and I have no doubt it will be a success in Northern Ireland also.

There has been some debate of where exactly the Air Ambulance should be located creating a difference in opinion amongst the powers that be. Many of the government ministers and trustees’ have indicated that the Air Ambulance should be based at Aldergrove airbase which is located outside Belfast. This would make it an easy place to be tasked from by the Northern Ireland Ambulance service, however Rodney disagrees with this proposal. “I feel the Air Ambulance should be located at St. Angello Airfield in Enniskillen because for me, this Air Ambulance should serve on both sides of the border, almost like a cross border partnership. Enniskillen is the ideal location as it is central to both Belfast and Sligo therefore it is easier for the Air Ambulance to access potential traumas both in the north and south of Ireland.”

One man who was also heavily involved with the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance campaign was the late Dr John Hinds. Dr John was an Anaesthetist at Craigavon Area Hospital but was better known for the medical cover he provided at motorcycling events throughout Ireland and further afield. ‘The flying doctor’ was tragically killed in a freak accident whilst travelling to provide medical assistance to an injured rider during a qualifying session at the Skerries 100 road races in July 2015. This fatality came just weeks after the Newtownards native had come onboard the HEMS campaign and since his death campaigners have been continuously working to achieve what John believed in.

Both Rodney and Ian had worked with Dr John prior to his death and outlined their heart-felt devastation and grief after his untimely death. Ian said, “It was such devastating news, in fact I was actually on holiday in Devon when I received the phone call to inform me of Dr Johns death. I was so shocked. Rodney added, “John’s death was extremely sad but one thing I will say is he put the Air Ambulance campaign on the map and his death brought the ideology to the fore.”

The death of Dr John Hinds impacted the lives of many, whether it is motorbike racers, event organisers or the patients which John provided with his utmost care. He was the type of character everyone could relate to and show gratitude to for his efforts within his work, motorcycling or his avid lust to secure an Air Ambulance for Northern Ireland.

Race photographer and colleague, Stephen Davison, described the impact of Dr John’s death on the motorcycling fraternity. “I was devastated to hear about John’s death. He was a talismanic figure in road racing and it seemed very, very wrong that we had lost the man who provided the care for the rest of us. The small, self-contained world of road racing seemed to have shifted slightly off the axis that it revolves around.”

Stephen also paid tribute to Dr John’s campaign surrounding the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance. “John had got involved with the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance campaign prior to his death. He was fully aware of the HEMS service in London having previously worked with Dr Gareth Davies, who heads up that service, as well as running the AirMed response team on the Isle of Man during the TT and the Manx Grand Prix. John himself was very opposed to unnecessary deaths and the statistics show that, perhaps, as many as 600 lives could have been saved in Northern Ireland since 2003 if an Air Ambulance had have been available. Many viewed the Air Ambulance as a luxury rather than a necessity but John viewed it as a fundamental need and this is why he began to push for its provision.”

One sporting event set to benefit from the introduction of the HEMS is the international North West 200 road races. An Air Ambulance has been utilised at the 8.9 mile street circuit at both the 2014 and 2015 events. The 2016 North West 200 is hoped to earmark the first flight of the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance should its assistance be required. North West 200 Event Director, Mervyn Whyte, has welcomed the reform, “The Air Ambulance is a major bonus in relation to the running of the event, and in particular, dealing with incidents. We as a club, have been stressing for a number of years how an Air Ambulance would help benefit those injured at these types of events. They talk about the ‘Golden Hour,’ and its crucial injured riders or spectators get to trauma centres as quickly as possible.”

Mervyn Whyte also commended the work of Dr John hinds in years gone by at the North West 200, he said. “I worked with Dr John Hinds a lot over the years. He was a caring, patient and hard-working character. Any injured riders knew they were in safe hands when John was dealing with them. Last year at the North West John worked tirelessly to help all involved with the incident on Station Road where both a rider and spectator were injured. Also in 2014 when French rider Frank Petricola had a serious accident at Primrose Dr John’s care and expertise subsequently saved his life.”

In many cases there are instances which can be adapted or changed for the better. In an ideal situation it would have been idyllic for Dr John Hinds to reap the benefits of his efforts alongside those from the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance charity. However, there is no doubt that the Air Ambulance will help save the lives of many throughout the province which is the ultimatum of all involved with the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance campaign.

An insight of what the HEMS could look like
An insight of what the HEMS could look like.

Further Information

The following link provides a brief insight of the exact function of the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service located in London. This service was encountered by Dr John Hinds prior to his death and indicates what the service will provide in Northern Ireland: