PSNI investigating after Coveney speech disrupted by hoax bomb alert

Police in the North are appealing for witnesses after a hoax bomb attack threw a peace event into chaos in Belfast yesterday.
PSNI investigating after Coveney speech disrupted by hoax bomb alert

James Cox

Police in the North are appealing for witnesses after a hoax bomb attack threw a peace event into chaos in Belfast yesterday.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was rushed from the stage after a man was ordered at gunpoint to drive his van towards the venue.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark McEwan says it was a disgraceful act that caused major disruption.

"The van driver was threatened by two gunmen and forced to drive his white Vauxhall van a short distance to another street, and the device was then placed in the van. The victim was then forced to drive the van to Holy Cross Chapel. The victim believed at this point that he was driving a van containing a live bomb and that his family was being threatened."

The UVF is suspected to be behind the security alert.

Constable McEwan added: “Most shamefully, a funeral taking place in the chapel was also disrupted, causing further grief to that family.

“This evening upon further examination, the device has been declared a hoax. It was clearly designed to cause maximum disruption to the local community.

“At this early stage of the investigation, our assessment is that these crimes were carried out by loyalist paramilitary groups.

“We’re keeping an open mind but one of the primary lines of investigation is the UVF.”

Reaction

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]."

The incident has been condemned by politicians.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis described the actions as “reprehensible”.

“Today’s incident at the Houben Centre in North Belfast is a reminder that there is a small minority willing to use violence to advance their goals,” he said.

“My thoughts are with the driver who faced a terrifying ordeal, the family that was holding a funeral, as well as with Simon Coveney and everyone else who was impacted.

“These actions are reprehensible. I utterly condemn those involved and give my thanks and reiterate my full support to the PSNI and security partners and urge anyone with any information to contact the police.”

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson welcomed the widespread condemnation, adding most people “want to get on with their lives and have no truck with those who cling to violence”.

Sinn Féin Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill also condemned those involved, adding: “Those determined to cause instability and disruption will not succeed. Those of us committed to peace will not be deterred.” - Additional reporting from Press Association 

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