Tributes paid to Mercy Order nuns killed in a crash with PSNI car
Tributes have been paid to the two elderly nuns killed in a road crash in Northern Ireland.
Sister Frances Forde and Sister Marie Duddy died when the car they were travelling in collided with an unmarked police car close to Newry, Co Down this morning.
The nuns, who were both from Belfast, had been making their way to a retreat when the accident occurred. Both women died at the scene.
Bishop Noel Treanor, from the diocese of Down and Connor, said: "This sudden and shocking loss of life leaves an impact not only upon all those who have known the sisters but upon the wider community in which they served.
"Over the years, these sisters have blessed the church with ministries ranging from healthcare, education, spiritual guidance and cross community and inter-faith dialogue."
The accident happened on the Belfast Road near the Derrycraw Road junction at about 9.20am.
The nuns, who were in a silver Renault Clio had been on their way to Dromantine College Retreat and Conference Centre on the Glen Road, Newry, when the crash happened.
Three male police officers travelling in an unmarked silver Mitsubishi Shogun were taken to hospital, where one received treatment for minor cuts and bruising but has since been discharged.
The Police Ombudsman's office is leading the investigation into the circumstances of the accident and sent a specialist mapping and photography team to the scene.
Adrian McAllister, chief executive with the ombudsman's office, also visited the crash site.
He said: "These are very tragic circumstances in which two people have lost their lives.
"There is an appeal for witnesses. It was a very busy dual carriageway at that time of the morning and some people may have seen what happened but were not in a position to stop. I would urge them to make contact with the ombudsman's office over the next 48 hours."
It is standard procedure for the ombudsman's office to investigate where a member of the public has died in an incident where police are involved.
Mr McAllister confirmed investigators had already carried out house-to-house inquiries and intended speaking to the police officers in due course.
The A1 road - the main arterial route between Belfast and Newry - was closed in both directions between the Outlet shopping centre at Banbridge and Sheepbridge Road.
Screens have also been erected at houses overlooking the scene as police and ombudsman investigators carry out a meticulous examination of the cars.
The vehicles were expected to be removed for forensic examination before the onset of the evening rush hour.
SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley drove past the accident on his way to the Stormont Assembly meeting this morning.
He said fire crews were using cutting equipment on a small silver-coloured hatchback car.
Mr Bradley said: "I would like to send my sympathy to the families and the religious community. It is a tragedy."
South Down MLA Karen McKevitt said the junction was notorious.
She said: "I was shocked and devastated to hear the news this morning that two nuns have died in a car accident on the A1 near Beech Hill. This is tragic news that has deeply shaken the local community.
"This junction is notoriously dangerous and has been the scene of previous road fatalities. I have lobbied Roads Service on numerous occasions to have measures put in place to improve safety but unfortunately it has now claimed more lives."
Sinn Fein Mayor of Newry Daire Hughes said the community had been left stunned by the nuns' deaths.
He said: "The thoughts and prayers of the Newry and Mourne community are with the families and friends of those who have sadly lost their lives today.
"We also keep in our prayers all those involved in this incident. This is a tragic reminder of just how vulnerable we can all be when out on our roads."