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Attack DUP leader condemns 'thuggery and terrorism' as loyalists hijack and petrol bomb bus

Loyalists have claimed the petrol bombing was done to coincide with a deadline set by the DUP to resolve issues around the NI protocol


The scene in Newtownards, Co. Down, where police are investigating a hijacking and arson attack on a bus

The scene in Newtownards, Co. Down, where police are investigating a hijacking and arson attack on a bus

The scene in Newtownards, Co. Down, where police are investigating a hijacking and arson attack on a bus

The DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has condemned “thuggery and terrorism” behind a bus hijacking in Newtownards this morning.

Loyalists have claimed the hijacking and petrol bombing was done to coincide with a deadline set by the DUP to resolve issues around the NI protocol.

The UUP has also said there could be no excuse for the attack. Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon said services in the area have been withdrawn.

The double-decker bus was hijacked and set alight in the Abbot Drive area on Monday morning.

Police said at around 6.30am, two masked and armed men boarded the bus and poured fuel over the vehicle before setting it alight.

The driver managed to get off the bus unharmed but has been left badly shaken by the incident.

The BBC reported claims from loyalists to say they had carried out the attack to mark the passing of the deadline set by the DUP for resolving the issues around the NI protocol.

In a tweet, Mr Donaldson said: “There was never any justification for people with guns on our streets and damaging property - there never will be. Thuggery & terrorism will do nothing to remove the NI Protocol. Political action has secured progress and must be allowed to continue. Violence has no place in this.”

A Translink spokesperson said: “At approximately 6.30am this morning, a service 7a bus was making its first stop at Abbot Drive in Newtownards when it was boarded by two armed and masked men.

“They ordered the driver off the bus, before pouring flammable liquid on the bottom deck and setting it alight.”

They added: “No passengers had yet boarded the bus and the driver was unharmed, although understandably shocked. He is being offered the appropriate supports.

“We utterly condemn this attack on our driver and bus.”

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The SDLP’s Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, called the attack “disgraceful”.

“Today’s attack on Translink by two masked men is disgraceful. Two masked men forced their way on to a bus and set it alight. Thankfully no one was hurt in this incident but those responsible for this attack need to stop now,” she said.

“I utterly condemn this cowardly act. Our transport workers are frontline public workers who provide a critical community service, those who seek to instil fear into the lives of ordinary people are criminals and nothing else.

“My thoughts are with the bus driver who was subject to this attack. All bus drivers deserve to feel safe as they go about their job.”

She said the public servants were “a fundamental part of our society” who worked hard to transport health workers tom hospitals and children to school.

“They deserve to be safe and they deserve our respect and gratitude. The cowards who attacked it have done nothing more than attack their own community.

“My Department and Translink are working closely with the PSNI and we stand firmly with our transport workers against all threats, violence and intimidation.”

The Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie called the incident “utterly disgraceful” and said

the “stupid actions of thugs and criminals” was simply hurting their own community.

His party colleague, Strangford MLA Mike Nesbitt, said there was “absolutely no justification” for the hijacking and destruction of the bus.

“This advances no cause other than to terrorise a bus driver and inconvenience local people who rely on bus services to get their children to school and get into town to go to the shops,” he said.

“If this was meant to be some kind of protest against the NI Protocol then it is entirely counterproductive. Vandalism and wanton destruction can never be the way forward.

“My thoughts are with the bus driver who has clearly suffered a terrible and frightening ordeal, and I urge anyone who can help the police to catch the two men responsible to contact the police.”

Sinn Fein’s North Belfast MP, John Finucane called the attack “reckless and despicable” and called on unionist leaders to cease using “provocative language” around the NI protocol.

“The hijacking and burning of a bus and threats to a driver in East Belfast today by an armed, masked man was dangerous, reckless and despicable,” he said.

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

“We need to see clear condemnation from unionist leaders on this reckless and dangerous violence.

“There are huge opportunities for our local businesses through the Protocol to create jobs, this violence undermines those opportunities.

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

“This is a time for calm and responsible leadership to reduce tensions and ensure there is no further escalation of violence on our streets.”

In September, Mr Donaldson said he would pull his ministers out of Stormont “within weeks” should changes not be made to the protocol. He later suggested a deadline of the end of October.

Last week he said that he was still prepared to collapse the institutions.

Asked on Good Morning Ulster about the deadline on Monday, First Minister Paul Givan said the strategy of Mr Donaldson’s had been working and progress made. He said prior to Mr Donaldson’s stance the EU and UK and not been discussing change to the protocol.

He said the possibility of collapsing Stormont remained.

The protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, but as a result has put a trade barrier for products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain. It has sparked anger among loyalists and united unionist parties in opposition.

Police are appealing for information on the hijacking.

Anyone who may have witnessed the incident or have any information in relation to it, is asked to contact police on 101 quoting reference 444 of 01/11/21.

A report can be submitted online using our non-emergency reporting form via http://www.psni.police.uk/makeareport/.

Information can also be provided to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.

The DUP has been asked for comment.

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