Rachel Johnson 7pm - 10pm
Masked men hijack bus and set it alight in Northern Ireland in attack linked to Brexit
1 November 2021, 17:18
Masked men have hijacked and set a bus alight in Northern Ireland, with politicians linking the attack to Brexit.
The two armed men boarded the bus, poured fuel over it and set it alight on Monday morning.
Stormont's Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, said they "muttered something about the (Northern Ireland) protocol" as they held the driver at gunpoint.
The driver managed to get off the vehicle unharmed but was left badly shaken by the incident. No passengers were on board at the time.
The charred and smouldering shell of the vehicle remained in the area on Monday afternoon. A nearby bus shelter was also badly damage by the blaze.
Loyalists are being held responsible for the incident, which happened in the predominantly unionist Abbot Drive area of Newtownards at about 6.30am.
It came on the day the DUP, earlier in the autumn, had said it would pull down the institutions at Stormont if major changes to the protocol had not been secured.
The DUP has not yet withdrawn ministers from the Executive, insisting progress is being made in efforts to dismantle the contentious Irish Sea border.
Opposition to the arrangements that have created trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK was a factor behind rioting that flared in several loyalist areas across the region in April.
Ms Mallon said: "One of our bus drivers just going about doing his job, trying to get people to and from work, was subjected to a horrific attack where two masked men forced their way on to the bus, held him at gunpoint, muttered something about the protocol, and then forced him off the bus and set the bus alight.
"All that has served to do is to intimidate and terrify a bus driver who's a public sector worker.
"But also it is hurting their local community, depriving them of a bus service, these buses are all about taking people to and from work, taking them to hospital appointments, taking children to and from school.
"So it has achieved absolutely nothing. All these mindless, faceless cowards have done is harm their own community."
Bus services in area have been temporarily suspended following the attack.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: "There was never any justification for masked gunmen on the streets of Northern Ireland and there never will be.
"When I outlined DUP action on the protocol at the start of September, I indicated that action was needed within weeks. At that time the European Union was saying that fresh negotiations were impossible.
"Since then the EU have agreed to table fresh proposals and serious negotiations have reopened with the UK government.
"No reasonable person could deny that this represents significant and positive progress."
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie tweeted: "Utterly disgraceful, depressing and stupid actions of thugs and criminals. In what way does this help address issues concerning the protocol, it simply hurts their own community. Wise up."
Anyone who witnessed the incident or has any information about it is asked to contact police on 101 quoting reference 444 of 01/11/21.