Northern Ireland: Bus hijacked and set on fire as disorder continues

First Minister continues to refuse to speak to Chief Constable of the PSNI

The wreckage of a bus on fire on the Shankill Road in Belfast. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

The wreckage of a bus on fire on the Shankill Road in Belfast. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

A bus was hijacked and set on fire near an interface in Belfast after violence broke out again in Northern Ireland on Wednesday evening.

The bus was set alight after youths pelted it with petrol bombs at the junction of Lanark Way and the Shankill Road in west Belfast.

A person with a canister next to a fire during clashes at the Springfield Road/Lanark Way interface in Belfast. Photograph: Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
A person with a canister next to a fire during clashes at the Springfield Road/Lanark Way interface in Belfast. Photograph: Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The North’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, condemned the violence and said her thoughts were with the driver. “This is not protest. This is vandalism and attempted murder.

“These actions do not represent unionism or loyalism. They are an embarrassment to Northern Ireland and only serve to take the focus off the real lawbreakers in Sinn Féin.”

The Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly said the “disgraceful scenes of violence and destruction” in Belfast on Wednesday night had “clearly been planned in advance and orchestrated by loyalist criminal gangs.”

He said the location of “so-called protests” close to interfaces was a “clear and deliberate attempt to raise tensions and incite further violence” and they needed to end “before someone is killed or seriously injured.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney tweeted on Wednesday night: “Very disturbing scenes of violence in NI tonight. All people of influence, political and community leaders, have a responsibility to do what they can to defuse tension.”

The British prime minister Boris Johnson also tweeted on Wednesday night that he was “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 of criminality.”

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) confirmed on Wednesday evening they had received a report of an assault on a press photographer in Cupar Way at 6.05pm.

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International in Northern Ireland condemned the “despicable attack”, saying it was “the latest attempt to intimidate journalists from doing their jobs and was an attack on the freedom of the press.

“We stand with Kevin Scott and all journalists in Northern Ireland forced to work in a climate of fear,” Mr Corrigan said.

“For some considerable time Amnesty has been warning of the escalation of chilling threats against journalists.

“Once again, we are calling for the police to hold the perpetrators to account and to uphold press freedom, which is a cornerstone of any democratic society, but is under serious and sustained threat in Northern Ireland.”

It follows consecutive nights of unrest which began last week in loyalist areas in Derry, Belfast and elsewhere in Co Antrim which left 41 police officers injured. Ten arrests have been made.

Members of the North’s Assembly have been recalled from Easter recess and will debate a motion condemning the violence on Thursday morning.

Earlier on Wednesday, the chair of the North’s Policing Board called for “dialogue at all levels” between police officers, politicians and the community in order to calm tensions in loyalist areas.

Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable, Simon Byrne, briefed members of the accountability body on the recent disorder, injuries to officer and the police’s assessment of the situation.

Speaking to the BBC following the briefing, Policing Board chairman Doug Garrett said there must be a “redoubling of efforts to calm tensions” and leadership was needed “from all those with influence” so that concerns could be addressed through democratic structures.

He also said that for senior politicians and the police not to talk was “not an ideal position” and dialogue was the only way to resolve the issues.

Mrs Foster faced criticism on Wednesday for her refusal to speak to the Chief Constable amid the continuing fallout over the decision not to prosecute 24 Sinn Féin politicians for attending the funeral of Bobby Storey in apparent breach of the Covid-19 regulations.

Anger at the decision by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) and unionist opposition to the Northern Ireland protocol and heightened tensions in loyalist areas over its operation, as well as recent drug seizures against the breakaway South East Antrim UDA, have also been blamed for the attacks on police.

Ms Foster said that if she met the Chief Constable “I will simply repeat what I said to him last Tuesday after the devastating report from the PPS [Public Prosecution Service] for him when I said that he had lost the confidence of the unionist community and he should resign.”

However, Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken said Ms Foster’s refusal to meet with the Chief Constable was a “mistake”, and while he also had “issues” with Mr Byrne because of “past actions and decisions ... that should not be the cause for us to refuse to engage.”

The North’s Minister for Justice and leader of the Alliance Party Naomi Long told RTÉ it was “preposterous” Ms Foster “refuses” to meet Mr Byrne just weeks after she met the Loyalist Communities Council, an umbrella group for loyalist paramilitaries.