Bus hijacked and set on fire on outskirts of Belfast

Loyalists clashed with police during a protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol on Wednesday - Getty
Loyalists clashed with police during a protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol on Wednesday - Getty

A bus has been hijacked and set on fire at a loyalist estate on the outskirts of Belfast.

Four masked men boarded the double decker in Church Road at an entrance to the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, at about 7.45pm and ordered the driver and passengers off.

The bus was then set alight across the road.

The charred remnants of the bus were still smouldering later on Sunday night as police in armoured vehicles monitored the scene.

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

Disorder also broke out at a community interface in west Belfast twice last week.

The violence involving youths from the nationalist Springfield Road and loyalist Shankill Road saw police being attacked with missiles and fireworks on Wednesday and Friday night.

Wednesday's disorder followed a protest against the protocol.

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. 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."

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson branded the attack "senseless".

"Such criminal behaviour could lead to death or serious injury," he tweeted.

"This only harms local people and local communities. It serves no cause whatsoever. The ringleaders should step back. Change is brought about by politics not by burning buses."

Sinn Fein North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said: "The hijacking and burning of a bus and threats to a driver in Rathcoole is dangerous, reckless and despicable.

"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.

"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: "Police received a report of a hijacking incident in the Church Road area of Newtownabbey at around 7.45pm on Sunday evening.

"It was reported that four men got onto the bus and ordered passengers off before the bus was then set alight.

"Church Road is currently closed and diversions are in place and police would ask members of the public to avoid the area."