Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has been taken away from a meeting in Belfast by the PSNI following an armed abduction in the area.
The Irish Independent understands a vehicle was hijacked in the city this morning by gunmen who forced the driver to take it to where Mr Coveney was giving a speech.
An army team was called to examine a device found in the back of the van.
Mr Coveney was speaking at the John and Pat Hume Foundation’s ‘Building Common Ground’ event at the Houban Center on Crumlin Road in Belfast.
After being made aware of an issue, the minister told the audience he had to go and hoped to be back in a few minutes.
However, he was escorted out of the area by armed gardaí and members of the PSNI. He should now be in a “safe place”.
Other participants were also evacuated from the building and a 400m cordon was put in place.
The driver of the vehicle was in tears at the venue after alerting security officials to the incident and apologizing to attendees for being forced to drive to the site.
Mr Coveney said he was “sad and frustrated that someone has been attacked and harassed in this way and my thoughts are with him and his family”.
Tim Attwood, secretary of the Hume Foundation, told Reuters: “There is a security alert and the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) are currently assessing the situation. Everyone had to evacuate the center.”
Northern Ireland’s Foreign Secretary Brandon Lewis offered Mr Coveney and all those affected “solidarity”.
I am aware of reports of an ongoing security alert in Belfast.
I am kept informed and in regular contact with the PSNI.
solidarity with @simoncoveney and all concerned.
— Brandon Lewis (@BrandonLewis) March 25, 2022
The PSNI said officers are currently attending a safety alert in the Crumlin Road area of north Belfast.
Motorists are advised to avoid the area and seek alternative main routes for their journey.
Worrying situation in Belfast today at the Building Common Ground Event. These mindless thugs will not stop the John and Pat Hume Foundation from continuing its work of promoting peace.
— Colum Eastwood 🇺🇦 (@columeastwood) March 25, 2022
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the Hume Foundation is “an organization dedicated to promoting peace and reconciliation.”
“The attack on her and Simon Coveney this morning is an attempt to withdraw that will never succeed,” he said.
The UK on Tuesday lowered its threat from Northern Ireland terrorism for the first time in more than a decade, with police saying operations targeting militant Irish nationalists made attacks less likely.
I would say so, but North Belfast is a fabulous place to discuss building common ground.
Minister Simon Coveney speaks at the Hume Foundation event. Part of a dialogue series dealing with 3 relationship groups – within NI, North~South and East~West. pic.twitter.com/4SNd75PYeM
— Amanda (@AmandaFBelfast) March 25, 2022
It’s unclear if the event will resume, but sources have suggested it could be difficult given the investigation now underway.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/simon-coveney-whisked-out-of-northern-ireland-event-after-armed-hijackers-demand-to-be-brought-to-venue-41486371.html Simon Coveney left the Belfast event after armed kidnappers demanded to be taken to the venue