Four masked men involved in the Rathcoole bus burning are believed to be aged in their 40s and boarded the bus carrying a hammer and a bottle of petrol, police have reported.
The PSNI said one of the men is described as being around 5’ 7” in height, whilst two others were estimated as being 6ft or taller.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has branded suggestions unionist politicians have “hyped up” loyalist violence as “disgraceful”, following the vehicle hijacking on Sunday evening.
The Lagan Valley MP was responding to comments made by Alliance Belfast councillor Nuala McAllister, who believes the latest bus attack “isn’t a coincidence”.
"All this violence has restarted after Donaldson’s deadline,” she told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.
"We have to be realistic, that words do matter. In the past few months, we have political leaders that are causing hype rather than solutions.”
Mr Donaldson claimed Ms McAllister was “trying to explain away this violence”.
"Trying to blame other political parties - what does that do? If young people are listening in this morning to Nuala McAllister, what do they think, when they hear a politician not putting the blame to the young people who were out on the streets,” he added.
The long-serving MP also said the recent bus attacks are “senseless” and urged the ringleaders to stand down.
The latest incident involved the four masked men boarding the Translink 2e Metro bus in the Church Road area after ordering passengers and the driver off when the vehicle was making a stop at Carnreagh Bend.
This is senseless. Such criminal behaviour could lead to death or serious injury. 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. https://t.co/rbyrr8hW2J— Jeffrey Donaldson MP (@J_Donaldson_MP) November 7, 2021
This is the fourth attack on public transport in Northern Ireland this year and follows on from an incident last week which saw a bus destroyed in Newtownards.
The ‘Protestant Action Force’ said it was responsible and carried out the act to mark the passing of a DUP deadline at the start of the month for resolving the NI Protocol issues.
Mr Donaldson announced last week that his party would hold back on its threat to collapse Stormont and power sharing over the Protocol for a few more weeks to enable negotiations between the UK and EU to continue.
He said the latest violence, “whatever the perceived or believed motivation is completely wrong” and added that “this violence can have no place in any campaign of opposition to the Protocol”.
On Monday he said he “believes the conditions have been met to trigger Article 16,” but still would prefer “to see an agreement met between the EU and the UK - that is the responsible thing to do”.
"When Nuala McAllister talks about solutions, I’ll be in London today yet again meeting with Lord Frost, yet again looking for solutions to these problems because I am driven by the need to find solutions,” Mr Donaldson continued.
“I’ve went beyond the timescale we talked about initially because the EU put proposals on the table and being a fair-minded person, I felt that we should allow more time to explore those proposals to see if the EU are proposed to go further. At the moment they haven’t.”
He said that if Article 16 is triggered, it would represent “decisive action” by the UK government, which he believes would set in motion “a series of events which would be designed to solve the issues created by the Protocol” and that would be a direct result of “political action… It is not down to burning a bus in a local community”.
He also disagreed with the PUP’s recent announcement about withdrawing their support from the Good Friday Agreement, but acknowledged that the Agreement’s “constitutional balance” has been “upset”.
“We need political stability in Northern Ireland. The union has been imperilled by this Protocol, so I understand why Billy Hutchinson is saying what he is saying, but we need to find solutions that restore political stability in Northern Ireland,” said Mr Donaldson.
This is the current scene in Rathcoole where a bus has been set alight. The bus driver was ordered off the bus here before it was dove a short distance and burnt. TSG officers now present @BelTel pic.twitter.com/Xihh0b2kPj— Kevin Scott (@Kscott_94) November 7, 2021
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood condemned the "thugs" who destroyed the bus and suggested it was part of orchestrated violence in protest against the protocol.
"That tap has been turned on but it's being controlled. It's absolutely wrong," he said of the recent violence.
"I frankly think that people like Lord Frost and senior members of the DUP need to think very carefully about the language that they're using, because they're creating more and more instability on the streets of Northern Ireland.
"We should take away the threat to these institutions, we should take away the pretence that there's some big battle around the protocol when it's absolutely clear to anybody that the European Union have offered the people of Northern Ireland everything that they asked for.
"Now they (the UK Government and DUP) are talking about the ECJ, nobody I have ever met on the streets of Belfast or Derry or Newry or anywhere else has raised the issue of the ECJ.
"It's a red herring, it's a nonsense and it's become a red line because some people don't want to solve the problems around the protocol."
Translink buses such as the one vandalised on Sunday cost around £225,000 and 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.”