Northern Ireland news

Co Down bus hijacking branded 'reckless and despicable'

UUP leader Doug Beattie. Picture by Mal McCann

POLITICIANS last night branded the bus hijacking in Newtownards as "reckless and despicable" and said it was a "deeply disturbing act of violence".

It has been suggested the hijacking and petrol bombing was carried out to coincide with a deadline previously set by the DUP to resolve issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol.

But Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said the attack was "beyond despicable".

In a post on Twitter, he wrote: "There is no place in our society for such acts of unspeakable violence and repulsive intimidation against innocent people.

"My thoughts are with the driver and all those involved in this incident. I would urge anyone with information to contact the police."

Justice Minister Naomi Long of Alliance described it as a "deplorable attack".

"Spraying the interior of a public bus with liquid and setting it alight will achieve nothing other than spreading fear and causing disruption to much needed services in communities," she said.

"My thoughts are with the driver and everyone affected by this incident. The risk to public safety was significant. No-one going about their business should be subjected to this kind of wanton violence and destruction."

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie tweeted that it was "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," he wrote.

Party colleague and MLA for the area, 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 counter-productive."

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong said it was a "deeply disturbing act of violence".

"Paramilitaries of all types should have left the stage," she said.

"Yet here we are masked thugs with a gun attacking a public service. Northern Ireland rejected violence in 1998. The community wants a shared and safer future for all."

TUV leader Jim Allister said that "bus burning, or any violence, is wrong and serves no purpose other than to give protocol supporters finger-pointing opportunities".

"I have long said that concerted political action is essential to defeat and remove the iniquitous protocol," he said.

"It is that which will work and which will leave no room for that which brings discredit to the cause."

Sinn Féin MP John Finucane said it was "dangerous, reckless and despicable" and said there was "absolutely no place in our society for this criminality and violence".

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

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

Labour shadow secretary for Northern Ireland Louise Haigh said it was "utterly reprehensible".

"A message must be sent from all in leadership that there is no place for these sickening acts of violence and intimidation," she said.

"The issues facing Northern Ireland must be addressed through political dialogue and leadership alone. There can be no return to the violence and intimidation that communities have rejected."

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson said it was "not what anyone wants to see" and the "Protocol is clearly continuing to cause serious societal instability in NI and poses a real risk to peace".

"Article 16 must now urgently be triggered as no one wants to see this on our streets," he wrote on Twitter.

"The Protocol far from protecting peace has instead caused untold political & societal instability.

"It simply cannot continue. No-one wants to see violence or disorder on our streets, everyone must work together to prevent that.

"Triggering Article 16 is now urgent. When the Irish government, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance & EU used the threat of republican violence for political leverage - and that was rewarded - that set an awful precedent.

"No-one wants to see peace damaged, we must all work together to maintain it."

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