Evening bus service suspensions continue in Belfast after two hijackings

A number of evening bus services in the Belfast area are set to remain suspended or diverted following two hijackings in a week.

Some 40-50% of Metro services, mostly in the north and east of the city, were affected on Monday evening while some Ulster bus routes were diverted.

The routes serve some of Belfast’s busiest roads, including the Antrim and Shore Roads, the Newtownards Road and the Crumlin Road.

Rail services were not affected.

Hijacked bus – Co Antrim
The burnt out double decker bus in Church Road near Rathcoole in Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, after it was hijacked and set on fire near a loyalist estate on the outskirts of Belfast (David Young/PA)

It comes after the hijacking and burning of two buses in loyalist areas in the past week amid rising tensions over opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The chief executive of Translink said the situation will be reviewed on Tuesday afternoon.

Chris Conway said Monday evening had been a “relatively peaceful night”, adding there were no incidents reported.

“We’re working very closely with local community groups and the PSNI to manage the situation dynamically,” he told the BBC.

Northern Ireland Protocol
The scene on Abbott Drive in Newtownards, near Belfast, after a bus was hijacked and set alight in an attack politicians have linked to loyalist opposition to Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol (David Young/PA)

“Last night was relatively calm so we’re pleased about that, and the measures we took last night, we will continue to reinforce those in the nights going forward to try and create that stability we are looking for across our services and in these local communities.

“What we really want to do is to reinstate these services, that’s our role, it’s a huge regret we have to withdraw services.

“The bus services will remain as they were last night. We will be reviewing that later on today and if there is any change to that we will notify people, but people should, at this point in time, should expect the same level of service as they had last night.”

Buses attacked in Belfast
Bus drivers took part in a walkout following recent attacks on buses (Unite the Union/PA)

Drivers gathered in the grounds of Belfast City Hall on Monday afternoon in solidarity with a colleague just hours after four masked men, armed with a hammer and a bottle of petrol, boarded a bus near the loyalist Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey.

The driver and passengers were ordered off and the vehicle was set alight.

Last Monday, a bus was hijacked and burned in a loyalist area of Newtownards, Co Down, in an apparent protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Disorder also broke out at a community interface in west Belfast twice last week

Mr Conway said the driver Bobby is recovering from the incident which he described as “very traumatic for him”.

Northern Ireland’s first sustainable fuel cell bus
Translink Group chief executive Chris Conway (Liam McBurney/PA)

“He is at home with his family. We have a welfare support team who are supporting him on a daily basis.

“It always takes time to recover from these incidents … sometimes it’s later the impact actually occurs to people but he is getting good support and he is recovering well,” he said.

He described the hijackings as an attack on drivers, passengers and the public transport service.