Newtownards: Bus hijacked and set alight in attack linked of opposition to Northern Ireland Protocol

Northern Ireland politicians have condemned the hijacking and torching of a bus in an incident linked to opposition to post-Brexit border arrangements.

Around 6.30am on Monday, two masked and armed men boarded the bus in Newtownards, County Down, and poured fuel over the vehicle before setting it alight.

According to police, the driver managed to get off the bus unharmed but was left badly shaken by the incident.

Northern Ireland’s infrastructure minister, the SDLP’s Nichola Mallon, told the BBC that the two masked men “muttered something about” the Northern Ireland Protocol as they hijacked the bus.

The Protocol was designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, but there is unhappiness in Northern Ireland that the UK-EU agreement creates trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The bus attack happened on the day that DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson had previously appeared to outline as a deadline for major changes to the Protocol, which his party is vehemently opposed to.

Sir Jeffrey said in a statement on Monday: “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 EU 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. That progress was secured through political action and not violence.”

Sir Jeffrey also warned that “those engaging in thuggery only undermine these efforts and cement the Protocol more firmly in place”.

UUP leader Doug Beattie also condemned the “utterly disgraceful, depressing and stupid actions of thugs and criminals”.

He posted on Twitter: “In what way does this help address issues concerning the protocol, it simply hurts their own community. Wise up……”

And Ms Mallon tweeted: “Our bus drivers are frontline public workers, our buses provide a critical community service.

“These cowards with covered faces have done nothing more than attack their own community.”

The UK government’s Brexit minister, Lord Frost, is due to meet with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in Brussels this week to continue their talks about the future of the Protocol.

Talks held in London last week were described as having taken place in a “constructive spirit” but the UK warned that gaps between the two sides remained “substantial”.

Anyone who witnessed the incident in the Abbot Drive area of Newtownards, or who has any information in relation to it, is being asked to contact police on 101 quoting reference 444 of 01/11/21.

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