Bus hijacked and set on fire during another day of unrest in Belfast

7 April 2021, 21:46 | Updated: 8 April 2021, 18:09

The bus was set alight in Belfast amid ongoing loyalist violence across Northern Ireland
The bus was set alight in Belfast amid ongoing loyalist violence across Northern Ireland. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A bus has been hijacked and set on fire amid another day of unrest in Belfast, during which a press photographer was attacked.

The vehicle was set alight at the junction of Lanark Way and Shankhill Road in west Belfast, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.

It took place on Wednesday evening on the peace line street that links the loyalist Shankhill Road with the nationalist Springfield Road.

Meanwhile, a press photographer was assaulted on a nearby street, while stones were thrown at officers during the violence.

First Minister Arlene Foster condemned the attack on Twitter, writing: "There is no justification for violence. It is wrong and should stop."

SDLP MP Claire Hanna also criticised the attack, tweeting: "We're told by the apologists that these protests & riots are borne of frustration about not being listened to, but an excellent photo journalist is attacked while trying to capture the story."

Later on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson also wrote on Twitter: "I am deeply concerned by the scenes of violence in Northern Ireland, especially attacks on PSNI who are protecting the public and businesses, attacks on a bus driver and the assault of a journalist.

"The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality."

Members of the public have been advised by the police to avoid the areas where the violence has taken place.

"We would appeal to those with influence in the area to use it to help restore calm," a PSNI statement said.

One video posted on social media appeared to show a gang throwing projectiles at a bus while at least one individual pelted the vehicle with a petrol bomb.

Translink Metro said it had withdrawn all services into the area until further notice due to road closures, as well as services in east Belfast.

Translink chief executive Chris Conway condemned the attack on the company's staff member.

He said: "Thankfully, all passengers got off the bus safely before the attack occurred. My thoughts are with the driver who is badly shaken but thankfully unhurt, he is being supported by colleagues.

"We are working closely with the PSNI and services have been suspended in this area and in other parts of the city. They will remain withdrawn until it is safe to reinstate them.

"Our staff have been working on the frontline throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to keep essential services operating and to keep communities connected, and this attack is reprehensible."

The Chief Constable of the PSNI later appealed for the ongoing disorder to stop.

Simon Byrne tweeted: "The ongoing street disorder must stop. I am open to dialogue with anyone who is willing to work with me to resolve the issues facing our community.

"My message to those engaged in violence tonight is go home before someone is seriously injured, violence is not the answer."

Police were pelted with stones on a nearby street to where the bus was set alight
Police were pelted with stones on a nearby street to where the bus was set alight. Picture: PA

Northern Ireland's Stormont Assembly is set to be recalled for an emergency debate on Thursday morning following days of violence.

Riots and attacks on officers have taken place repeatedly throughout the past week and have now resumed after a relative lull on Tuesday.

Police were assaulted during another night of violence in a number of loyalist areas on Monday.

Nine officers were injured in Ballymena, taking the total number of coppers injured in disorder across the nation since last Friday night to 41.

On Monday, the most intense clashes were witnessed in Ballymena, where nine riot police officers were injured after they intervened in an unlawful march of loyalists through the town.

During the unrest, debris, including a wheelie bin, was thrown on to the M2 motorway, forcing it to be closed.

The disorder also flared in parts of Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey and Londonderry on Monday, with petrol bombs and other missiles thrown at officers.

Children as young as 12 have been involved in some of the violence that has been witnessed in recent days.

Cars, a JCB digger, a phone box and bins were set alight in the Waterside area of Londonderry on Monday.

Police said that a brick was thrown at a taxi, which was carrying a passenger at the time, on Limavady Road.

Earlier on Wednesday, a DUP MP urged loyalist protesters to "use their heads'" and step away from situations that may descend into violence.

The cause of the unrest has been attributed to frustration over a decision not to prosecute members of Sinn Fein over alleged coronavirus regulation breaches at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey.

Opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol and drugs seizures against a dissident faction of the UDA in south-east Antrim have also been blamed.

The DUP has called for the resignation of police chief Simon Byrne over the lack of prosecutions.