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Belfast coach fire tourists back on the road

By David Young

Taiwanese and German tourists who lost possessions when their luxury coaches were destroyed in a fire at a Belfast hotel are back on the road, continuing their tour of Ireland - north and south.

Coach operator Michael Quinn, who lost a £250,000 vehicle when the blaze happened at a Sandy Row hotel early on Saturday morning, said that they had headed from the north coast and the Giant's Causeway on Saturday.

The Taiwanese group arrived in Dublin last night, ready for the next part of the tour, which will take them to the Ring of Kerry, the cliffs of Moher and Galway over the next few days.

Mr Quinn said the incident had been very upsetting for the tourists. "It was, surely - but at the finish we got them up and back on the road again," he said.

"They lost a few small possessions - blankets, hats, stuff like that was lost - but thankfully nothing major.

"All their main luggage was in the hotel with them."

There were 17 Taiwanese tourists, plus a 26-strong German group in the second coach which was destroyed in the incident in the early hours of Saturday.

Mr Quinn said he had heard nothing yet from the authorities about exactly how the fire which destroyed the two coaches had started. The Quinn coach was less than two years old and had cost approximately £250,000.

He said that the deluxe German coach would cost the other company almost £500,000 to replace.

"It's a lot of money for insurance companies to be paying out," he added.

It's the first time anything like this has happened to the Dungannon company.

Mr Quinn added: "It came completely just out of the blue.

"We've had vandalism and stuff like that before, but this is the first time we've had a coach burned."

Mr Quinn said he was waiting for reports from the crime scene investigators as to the cause of the blaze.

Police suspect that the fire may have been started maliciously.

Inspector David Gibson said: "It appears as though the fire started under one of the buses before spreading to the second.

"While the exact cause is still under investigation, it is thought that the fire was started deliberately."

Tourism and hospitality expert Lyn Fawcett of Ulster University said that the incident - while undoubtedly upsetting for the tourists involved who lost possessions - was unlikely to have any lasting effect on tourism to Northern Ireland.

"The terror attacks of the kind we've seen in London and Manchester put this kind of mindless vandalism into perspective," the senior academic said.

"Vandalism happens everywhere."

The PSNI has appealed for anyone who possesses any information about the weekend incident in the city's Hope Street to come forward.

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