A PARTY of staff and volunteers from the Enniscorthy Credit Union were given a firsthand view of Loyalist rioting as they visited Belfast early this week.
The visitors from County Wexford watched horrified from their hotel as lawless protestors, some of them barely in their teens, showered their bus parked outside with stones and petrol bombs.
The Enniscorthy CU group led by manager Tony Ennis were in the North to collect certificates from the University of Ulster after taking a year long course in credit union practice. But the sight of a Southern-registered coach was enough to trigger a violent response from some residents of the nearby Loyalist Sandy Row opposed to curtailment of the flying of the Union flag on Belfast City Hall.
Members of the PSNI intervened and the rioters were stopped before the bus was completely destroyed.
The bus had been hired from the Fleet line coach company in Wexford. The company proprietor, John Kehoe, has said he will now 'think twice' about allowing any of his vehicles to go to Belfast again. STAFF AND board members of Enniscorthy credit union looked on with a mixture of amazement and horror from their Belfast hotel as Loyalist rioters attacked their coach with firebombs.
The party from the Abbey Square institution, led by Enniscorthy CU manager Tony Ennis, had a front row view as lawless protesters, some of them barely into their teens, spilled over from the nearby Sandy Row estate.
The 14 Slaneysiders were in the North to collect certificates from the University of Ulster after taking a year long course in credit union practice.
Just a year ago a similar expedition to the ceremony at the university campus in Jordanstown passed in carefree style without incident.
But this time the sight of a Southern registered coach was enough to trigger a violent response from elements of Loyalism opposed to curtailment of the flying of the Union flag above Belfast City Hall.
Their rampant vandalism was visible from Days Hotel in the centre of the city where the party was staying. The incident was brought to an end by the intervention of the PSNI before any of the firebombs could cause major damage.
However, a borrowed bus was required to transport the party to Jordanstown the next day while repairs were carried out to the vehicle from Fleetline in Wexford.
The visitors were not deterred from taking part in their graduation ceremony and many were happy to go shopping in the city for a few hours before returning south.
Wexford bus owner John Kehoe was startled to receive a telephone call at home in Tuskar View from the PSNI informing him of the incident.
He said afterwards he will think twice about bringing passengers to the city in future though he has been urged by a Belfast trade association not to let the experience put him off.
The violence flared in response the Union Jack restrictions, Petrol bombs were thrown, smashing windows and causing damage to the roof of the parked coach. Fortunately, the missiles failed to ignite inside the vehicle.
The Fleet line driver on duty was PJ O'Brien who helped the police bring the damaged vehicle to the safety of an Ulster Bus depot overnight.
PJ, an experienced driver who has made many trips to the North over the years, said the passengers were all badly shaken by the incident.
' Thankfully, nobody was injured. It's a shame tha t something like this happened,' he said. He a l so expressed surprise that so many of the unruly crowd were very young
The windows of the bus were repaired in time for the return journey, still bearing the scars of the Molotov cocktails thrown by the hoodlums.
The bus attack attracted widespread media coverage which focussed on the potential damage to business and tourism in the North.
John Kehoe was interviewed about his reaction to the attack on the popular Northern Ireland radio programme, the Nolan Show while PJ appeared on BBC TV.
Afterwards John was contacted by the West Belfast Trade Association, asking him not to let the attack deter him from future trips.