A BUS driver in Newtownards was left badly shaken after two masked men boarded his vehicle 06:30 this morning and set it alight.
The attack took place in the predominantly loyalist Abbot Drive area of the town and is being linked to a DUP promise earlier in the autumn to collapse Stormont institutions if their demands to make changes to the NI protocol were not met.
Despite giving a November 1 deadline, the DUP has not yet taken the decision to boycott institutions, insisting instead that progress is being made in discussions with the Irish Government, the EU and the UK Government at Westminster.
Loyalist opposition to what has been referred to as the Irish Sea Border led to intense rioting in the Shankill area of West Belfast back in April.
During that spate of violence, a bus was also hijacked and burned, with passengers and Translink NI employees narrowly escaping harm.
Condemnation of this morning’s attack came from across the political spectrum, with DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson tweeting:
“There was never any justification for people with guns on our streets and damaging property – there never will be.
“Thuggery & terrorism will do nothing to remove the NI Protocol. Political action has secured progress and must be allowed to continue. Violence has no place in this.”
Sinn Féin MP and former Lord Mayor of Belfast John Finucane, described the attack as ‘dangerous, reckless and despicable,’ adding:
“There is absolutely no place in our society for this criminality and violence.”
SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon called the hijacking ‘disgraceful’ and pointed out the potential danger to human life.
“Our bus drivers are frontline public workers, our buses provide a critical community service,” she said.
Meanwhile, UUP leader Doug Beattie tweeted that the incident amounted to the “utterly disgraceful, depressing and stupid actions of thugs and criminals.
“In what way does this help address issues concerning the protocol, it simply hurts their own community. Wise up.”