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Rathcoole bus hijacking and fire bombing ‘pathetic’ as driver ‘badly shaken’ by attack

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon tweets: “What does this madness achieve?”

Politicians across Northern Ireland have condemned the hijacking and burning of a 2e Metro bus in Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, which has left the bus driver “badly shaken”.

Four men hijacked and set fire to the Translink vehicle after ordering passengers and the driver off. 

There have been no reports of injuries, and Translink said while passengers “safely disembarked” the vehicle, the driver was “badly shaken”. He was offered support by his  colleagues, the transport operator said. 

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said crews were called at around 7.55pm to attend the fire at the entrance of Valley Leisure Centre on the Church Road.

The blaze was extinguished by 8.45pm and police have said that Church Road will remain closed between O’Neill Road and the Abbeycentre Shopping Centre overnight and into Monday morning, with diversions in place and motorists being asked asked to seek alternative routes if possible.

This is the fourth attack on public transport in Northern Ireland this year.

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Alliance MLA and Policing Board member John Blair said the incident was “deeply disturbing”.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis said that the act is “beyond contempt” and added: “There is never any justification for such criminality, and there never will be. This only causes disruption and distress to people’s lives.”

UUP leader Doug Beattie questioned why those behind the incident are “terrorising society with the hope of achieving what exactly?”

“This is utterly pathetic and it needs to stop. Those responsible do not represent the overwhelming majority who just want a peaceful society,” he said in a tweet.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon noted “it is disgraceful and disgusting that our public transport workers have been targeted for attack again.

“Translink buses are public assets. Without them people can't get to and from work, or school, or hospital appointments,” she continued. 

"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.”

She said her department and public transport provider Translink are working closely with the PSNI to help bring those responsible to justice.

“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.”

Translink added: “We are very disappointed by this intimidating attack on our member of staff and public transport services in the area. We utterly condemn this behaviour and will be working closely with the PSNI to investigate this incident”.

Images and videos of the vehicle set ablaze started circulating on social media at around 8.30pm on Sunday evening. 

This attack follows on from an incident at the start of this month which saw a bus destroyed. The ‘Protestant Action Force’ said it was responsible and carried out the act to mark the passing of a DUP deadline for resolving the NI Protocol issues.

“We need to see clear condemnation from unionist leaders tonight of this violence and further attempts to stir up tensions,” commented Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly.

“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.”

TUV North Belfast Assembly candidate Ron McDowell condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms” and said he appreciates “that tensions are high in our community but whatever the motivation was for the trouble currently ongoing in Rathcoole this achieves nothing for the area.”

“This is not Rathcoole and should not be representative of the people there. I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms,” he continued.

“Rathcoole is a great place filled with great people who will rightly be outraged at this.

“It is incumbent on elected representatives of unionism to provide leadership. Sadly that has been lacking and I fear that people are exploring that. When unionists set deadlines and make threats about political action they need to follow through. When they don’t they permit more sinister forces to fill the vacuum”.

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