By David Young, PA
A Government minister forced to evacuate from a peace building event in Belfast after a bomb threat has returned to complete his interrupted speech.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney delivered a defiant message to the loyalist paramilitaries believed to be behind the security alert as he resumed his address.
He branded the bomb scare a “cowardly and futile exercise” that only served to drag the reputation of the community backwards.
Mr Coveney had been delivering an address at an event organised by the John and Pat Hume Foundation when the alert happened in March.
The Houben Centre on the Crumlin Road was evacuated and a funeral service at nearby Holy Cross church was disrupted.
An electrician had been earlier hijacked at gunpoint and told to drive what he believed to be a live bomb to the centre in his van.
The item turned out to be a hoax bomb.
Mr Coveney returned to the Houben Centre on Wednesday morning to address the rescheduled event.
The Fine Gael TD began with an apology. “Hello, again,” he said.
“Thank you for coming back. I didn’t get a chance to say it in person when we last met but I do want to say that I’m genuinely sorry that my presence here on the last occasion at the Houben Centre ended the way that it did.
“An innocent man, a working electrician called out on a job was hijacked at gunpoint and forced to drive his van here, thinking he was carrying an explosive device.
“A family funeral next door at Holy Cross was disrupted also. That was a futile, cowardly exercise in community control.
“It serves no-one, no good purpose, except to drag the reputation of this decent community backwards to darker days.
“The only outcomes – a man living with the trauma of being forced to drive what he thought was a bomb and a grieving family forced to pray for their loved ones on the roadside and in a car park, instead of the sanctity of a church.”
Mr Coveney added: “For God’s sake, in this day and age we should be beyond having to call out paramilitarism and its role in society in Northern Ireland.
“There is no excuse or justification for such violence, threats, coercion.
“Nobody, no matter their allegiance or identity, or indeed their grievance, has the right to threaten anyone for holding different views.
“To the groups who cling on to the use of violence as a means of controlling and threatening their own communities and those who encourage them, I say this very directly – your communities need uplift and investment and you scare that away.
“Your communities need a political voice and you stifle it. Your communities deserve a safe environment to raise their families supported by effective policing – your actions undermine their safety, their wellbeing and their future.
“Take a look at the children in your community and ask yourself if you want them to turn out like you.
“Every positive, progressive aspiration held by your community for a better future, you are holding it back.”
Mr Coveney noted that the theme of the John and Pat Hume Foundation event was “building common ground”.
“It is the opposite to what we experienced the last time we met,” he said.