Simon Coveney evacuated from Belfast event due to security alert involving hijacked van

The Minister for Foreign Affairs was speaking at an event hosted by the John and Pat Hume Foundation in North Belfast
Simon Coveney evacuated from Belfast event due to security alert involving hijacked van

Updated: 11.55am

An event in Belfast, at which Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was making an address, has been evacuated following a security alert.

Event organisers said a suspect device was discovered in a hijacked van in the carpark of the Houban Centre in North Belfast where Mr Coveney was due to give the keynote address at the Building Common Ground event hosted by the John & Pat Hume Foundation.

The van driver was ordered at gunpoint to drive to the venue, one of the event's organisers told Reuters.

Following the alert, Mr Coveney was taken off the stage by officials during his speech.

"I'm afraid I have to leave, I hope I'll be back in a few minutes," he said, ending his speech prematurely.

 

The minister was driven away from the venue in his government car, a Reuters witness at the scene said.

The driver was in tears inside the venue after alerting security officials to the incident and apologising to attendees for being forced to drive to the site, the witness added.

"There is a security alert and the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) are currently assessing the situation.

"Everyone has had to evacuate the centre," Tim Attwood, secretary of the Hume Foundation, told Reuters at the scene.

Having been taken to a safe location, Mr Coveney tweeted: "In Belfast with [the Hume Foundation] to honour John & Pat's legacy of peace for all communities.

"Saddened & frustrated that someone has been attacked & victimised in this way and my thought are with him & his family.

"Many thanks to [the Police Service of Northern Ireland]."

Earlier, the PSNI confirmed police "are currently in attendance of a security alert at the Crumlin Road area of North Belfast".

"Motorists are advised to avoid the area and seek alternative main routes for their journey," the force added.

The incident comes after the UK lowered its Northern Ireland-related terrorism threat level for the first time in more than a decade on Tuesday, with police saying operations against nationalist militants were making attacks less likely.

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