“Protestant Action Force”… Who is the gang accused of the Newtownards’ bus hijacking?
The men who hijacked a Translink bus in Newtownards on Monday claimed to be from the group known as the “Protestant Action Force”.
During the hijacking, they reportedly told the driver it was the start of a campaign against the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The driver, who initially thought he was the victim of a burglary, managed to get off the bus unscathed but remained “seriously shaken”, while the PSNI said patrols would be stepped up in the area in the next days.
What is the “Protestant Action Force”?
The “Protestant Action Force” was a cover name used by loyalists, primarily the UVF, to avoid directly claiming responsibility for the murders during the unrest.
The name appeared in the 1970s, the name would have been particularly active between 1974 and 1975.
The group’s name is believed to have been used to claim responsibility for the murders of at least 41 Catholics during the conflict.
Those who use the name have claimed responsibility for a number of historic atrocities.
They are believed to be particularly linked to the Glenanne gang, which operated in parts of Co Armagh and Tyrone in the 1970s and claimed responsibility for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974.
Have they been active recently?
The last reported murder referring to the name dates back to the 1990s, but in July the Sunday World reported that an emblem of the so-called group had appeared on a wall in Co Armagh.
Their orange triangular symbol with the letters “PAF” has been reported to have appeared in Lurgan alongside the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) and YCV (Young Citizen Volunteers) emblems in the Mourneview estate.
At the time, the PSNI said it was investigating the appearance of the emblems and that the symbol was condemned by local politicians.
Loyalists have claimed that Ards’ recent hijacking was carried out to coincide with a deadline set by the DUP to resolve issues with the NI protocol.
A loyalist source reported by this newspaper said that a banner saying “Peace or Protocol”, which was displayed at a demonstration in the city earlier this year, must be taken literally.
“Unless the protocol is enforced, a few burning buses will be just the tip of the iceberg,” they said.
The source added that although the main paramilitary groups did not sanction the attack, they would also not prevent “the young loyalists from taking violent measures because, in our opinion, the policy has not succeeded.” .
Reaction to the last incident
In response to the Ards bus hijacking, local politicians condemned those responsible.
DUP chief Sir Jeffrey Donaldson condemned “the violence and terrorism” behind the incident.
“There has never been any justification for people with guns on our streets damaging property – there never will be,” he added.
“Violence and terrorism will do nothing to suppress the NI Protocol. Political action has made progress and must be allowed to continue. Violence has no place in this. “
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon called the attack “shameful”.
“Our transport workers are front line public workers who provide essential community service, those who seek to instill fear in the lives of ordinary people are criminals and nothing else,” she said. “My thoughts are with the bus driver who was the subject of this attack. All bus drivers deserve to feel safe in their work.
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie called the incident “utter shame” and said “the stupid actions of thugs and criminals” were simply harming their own community. His party colleague, Strangford MP Mike Nesbitt, said there was “absolutely no justification” for the hijacking and destruction of the bus.
Sinn Fein MP John Finucane called the attack “reckless and contemptible” and urged union leaders to stop using “provocative language” around the NI protocol.
“There is absolutely no place in our society for this crime and violence,” he said.