(PA Media/dpa) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has condemned violence that again broke out on the streets of Northern Ireland, after a bus was hijacked and set on fire.
The bus was set alight after being pelted with petrol bombs at the junction of Lanark Way and Shankill Road in west Belfast, the PSNI said.
It was one of a number of incidents on Wednesday evening that took place on the peace line street that links the loyalist Shankill Road with the nationalist Springfield Road.
“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,” Mr Johnson wrote on Twitter.
“The way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality.”
It follows several nights of unrest in loyalist communities amid tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol on Brexit and the PSNI’s handling of alleged coronavirus regulation breaches by Sinn Fein at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey.
Stones were thrown at police while a press photographer was assaulted nearby during the course of their work on Wednesday evening.
First Minister Arlene Foster condemned the attack on Twitter, saying: “There is no justification for violence. It is wrong and should stop.”
She later added: “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 law breakers in Sinn Fein. My thoughts are with the bus driver.”
Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said: “Disgraceful scenes of criminality tonight including a potentially lethal attack on bus driver and assault on journalist.
“Unequivocal condemnation needed and protests should be called off immediately – police need support not politicking.”
Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon described the attack on the bus as “sickening.”
She said: “Those attacking their own communities and their own public services are achieving nothing and if this doesn’t stop now it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed.
“Tonight with deep regret Translink has had to suspended some services in Belfast due to ongoing disturbances.
“Thankfully no one has been hurt in this incidence, but those responsible for this attack, and ongoing attacks on the police, need to stop and stop now.
“I appeal for calm and call on those destroying their own communities and those fanning the flames to end this recklessness before someone is seriously hurt or killed.”
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.”
SDLP MP Claire Hanna also criticised the attack on the photographer, 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.”
Police are advising members of the public to avoid these areas.
“We would appeal to those with influence in the area to use it to help restore calm,” a PSNI statement said.
Videos circulating online show a bus being pelted with petrol bombs and having its windows smashed where a crowd of people had gathered.
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.
A crowd of around 500 people, most of them adults, gathered on the corner of the junction at Lanark Way as events unfolded.
Further down the road a bonfire was lit where a crowd of approximately 100 people, mostly young, were assembled.
The Stormont Assembly is set to be recalled on Thursday morning for an emergency debate following days of violence.
Riots and attacks on police have taken place repeatedly throughout the last week and have now resumed after a relative lull on Tuesday.
Police were attacked during another night of violence in a number of loyalist areas on Monday.
Nine officers were injured in Ballymena, taking to 41 the number injured in disorder across Northern Ireland since last Friday night.
The most intense clashes on Monday were witnessed in Ballymena, when 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 onto the M2 motorway, forcing its closure.
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 the Limavady Road.
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.