Northern Ireland: Bus hijacked and set on fire near loyalist estate on the outskirts of Belfast

A bus was hijacked and set on fire near a loyalist estate on the outskirts of Belfast on Sunday evening.

Four masked men boarded the double-decker in Church Road at an entrance to the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim just before 8pm.

The driver and passengers were ordered off the bus, which was then set alight.

It follows a similar attack last Monday

It comes after a bus was hijacked and burned in a loyalist area of Newtownards, Co Down, last Monday in an apparent protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Disorder also broke out at a community interface in west Belfast twice last week, with police attacked with missiles and fireworks on Wednesday and Friday night.

Wednesday’s disorder – which involved youths from the nationalist Springfield Road and loyalist Shankill Road – followed a protest against the Protocol.

The Protocol was designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, but there is unhappiness in Northern Ireland that the UK-EU agreement creates trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Condemning Sunday’s hijacking, Stormont Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said the driver and passengers were safe after a “terrifying experience”.

“It is disgraceful and disgusting that our public transport workers have been targeted for attack again, this time by masked men who ordered the driver and passengers off a bus this evening and then set fire to it. This is the fourth attack this year,” she said.

“Translink buses are public assets. Without them people can’t get to and from work, or school, or hospital appointments.

It follows a similar attack last Monday
The charred remains of the bus could be seen smouldering on Sunday evening

“Our bus drivers are working-class people who deserve to be safe in their jobs. People using public transport also deserve to feel safe and be able to go about their business without fear.

“The criminals behind these reckless and cowardly attacks have done nothing more than harm their local community, depriving them of a critical public service. It is another extreme act of self harm consistently rejected by the people of Northern Ireland.”

Sinn Fein North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly called the act “dangerous, reckless and despicable”.

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He added: “There is absolutely no place in our society for this criminality and violence.

“We need to see clear condemnation from unionist leaders tonight of this violence and further attempts to stir up tensions.

“Words and actions are very important, and I would urge unionist leaders to end the provocative language and dishonesty around the protocol.

The bus was set alight at a loyality estate on the outskirts of Belfast
The charred remains of the bus could be seen smouldering on Sunday evening

“People want calm and responsible leadership to reduce tensions and ensure there is no further escalation of violence on our streets.”

A PSNI spokesman said: “Church Road is currently closed and diversions are in place and police would ask members of the public to avoid the area.”

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