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09 Dec 2021

'Inferred risks' should not have halted Waterside bus services

DUP MLA for Foyle, Gary Middleton, claims Translink made error in withdrawing vehicles as attacks on buses in Belfast and Newtonabbey were not being replicated in Derry

 'Inferred risks' should not have halted Waterside bus services

Gary Middleton MLA: "There is nothing achieved through burning vehicles but there is nothing achieved either through exacerbating fears."

DUP Foyle MLA, Gary Middleton, has hit out against the “inferred risks” that saw the bus service on the Waterside being withdrawn on Monday night.

Public transport buses were pulled from the timetable leaving Waterside commuters stranded.

Buses were withdrawn in Belfast following a walkout by drivers after attacks were made on services both there and in Newtownabbey.

Although no vehicles have been attacked in Derry, bus operator Translink made the decision to do likewise on Monday night. Normal timetable service was restored on Tuesday.

Mr Middleton said such a call did not need to be made given no public unrest had happened in Derry.

But while he did not condone the violence in Belfast and Newtownabbey, he said a combination of the Northern Ireland Protocol and remarks from EU officials have not helped soothe fears amongst the unionist community.

He said: “The Northern Ireland Protocol is harming Northern Ireland. It is costing our economy £850million per year, reducing availability on the shelves and driving up prices for consumers.

“Incidents in Belfast and Newtownards where buses have burned do nothing to remove the Protocol and only serve to distract from the harm it is causing.

“There has been no such disruption in Londonderry, and in the areas where bus services have been withdrawn there have been no incidents in recent memory. Services appear to have been withdrawn without any apparent justification.

“That not only deprives people in that area from this vital service but also appears to infer some kind of risk when there is none.

"There is nothing achieved through burning vehicles but there is nothing achieved either through exacerbating fears.

“We have seen disgraceful comments from the European Union which referred to them being 'ready for peace but prepared for war'.

“It's time for everyone to dial down the rhetoric and work to find solutions which respect Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom.”

Alliance Party Councillor, Philip McKinney – who represents the Waterside ward – said that while tensions in loyalist areas were high, he hadn't heard of attacks similar to Belfast and Newtonabbey being planned on buses and called on the political leaders to give guidance to those communities.

He added: “I haven't heard anything on the ground if anything like what happened in Belfast and Newtonabbey is being planned here.

“However, feelings are running quite high in loyalist areas. However, while the withdrawal of bus services affect those loyalist areas, nationalist estates were affected by this as well.

“I think those on the loyalist side lack guidance from their political leaders. It's the old analogy of 'The Grand Old Duke Of York' marching them up a hill.

“I in no way blame Translink for wanting to care for their staff and members of the public.

“The politics need to be sorted out on the ground. These people who are carrying out the hijacking of buses, I don't think they represent the real people on the ground and those real people are the ones losing their buses.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Shaun Harkin of People Before Profit, said that public transport workers deserved better protection from such attacks and accused the DUP of using the Protocol to “whip-up sectarian violence”.

Cllr Shaun Harkin of People Before Profit

Cllr Harkin said: “We stand in full solidarity with Translink bus workers taking strike action in response to attacks on buses, passengers and public transportation.

“We condemn the now persistent and thuggish burning of buses by those determined to inflame sectarian violence.

“Workers already face enough challenges doing their jobs and should not face this kind of terror and threats – nor should people attempting to access public transportation.

“The DUP and others are using the issue of the protocol to stir up community division and must take responsibility for sectarian violence.

“The whipping up of sectarian violence has long been utilised by elites to deflect from their own failures and to divide working class communities.

“All working class communities have been abandoned by elites whether it's cuts to Universal Credit, rising energy costs, new tax burdens and pay cuts. Those whipping up sectarian division and violence have no solutions to any of this.

“We need to strive for unity if we're to address the hardships and challenges our communities face.

“We commend the action of the bus workers and the message of unity it sends. We appeal to everyone to back the bus workers and to reject attempts to whip up sectarian violence.”

Translink meanwhile have advised Foyle Metro and Ulsterbus passengers that services have returned to normal.

Ian Campbell, Director of Service Operations explained, “Safety remains our top priority and we are working hard to get services back to normal as quickly as possible for our passengers.

“We would like to thank the public for the many messages of concern and support, particularly for our bus drivers. These are very welcome as we work through these difficult circumstances.

“We will continue to monitor and liaise with the PSNI, our Trade Union colleagues and local communities to reassess the situation daily.

“As we safely move to reinstating services, we will keep everyone updated through our website: www.translink.co.uk, Twitter or call the contact centre on 028 90 66 66 30 to get the latest service information before you travel.”

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