UVF is believed to be behind the van bomb hoax that pushed Coveney off the stage

The UVF is suspected of being behind a loyalist hoax bombing at an event hosted by the Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney was address yesterday.

Government sources believe Mr Coveney was the target of the attack, in which an innocent man was forced to drive a van carrying what was originally believed to be an explosive device to the venue.

Mr Coveney spoke at the Building Common Ground event hosted by the John and Pat Hume Foundation at the Houben Center on Crumlin Road in Belfast.

He had to stop mid-conversation after his security team told him they needed to leave the building urgently. He was escorted to a “safe place” by Gardaí and the PSNI.

The attack is believed to have been pre-planned and linked to the ongoing debate over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking last night at PSNI headquarters, Deputy Police Commissioner Mark McEwan condemned the “disgraceful” attack that disrupted a peace-building event Mr Coveney was attending.

Between 9am and 10am yesterday morning a van was hijacked on Sydney Street West, near Shankill Road.

The driver was threatened by two gunmen and forced to drive his white Vauxhall van a short distance to another street where a device was placed in the van. He was then forced to drive to Holy Cross Chapel in north Belfast.

ACC McEwan said: “Just think about it: the victim at this point believed he was driving a van with a live bomb – and that his family was being threatened.”


Secretary of State Simon Coveney is led from the room due to a security alert while speaking at a peacebuilding event organized by the John and Pat Hume Foundation. Photo: Hume Foundation/PA

Over 25 homes were evacuated during the security alert, local schools were affected and vulnerable residents at a nursing home had to be relocated to another part of the building.

A funeral that took place in the chapel was also disrupted.

After the device was declared a scam, ACC McEwan said officials’ goal was to maximize disruption to the local community.

His early assessment was that loyalist paramilitaries were responsible, with the main suspect being the UVF.

He asked for information about the shooter and the movements of the white Vauxhall van, registration XJZ7908.

ACC McEwan said it would not speculate whether Mr Coveney was the target or whether he would need additional reassurance in the future.

He also couldn’t be sure if the weapons used were real, but said the threat to the driver felt real at the time

He said the driver has since been taken to hospital for treatment and that a significant security threat remains in Northern Ireland – meaning “an attack is likely”.

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”.

A controlled explosion was carried out by Army engineering officers on site. A loud bang was heard shortly after 1 p.m.

Politicians on all sides of Northern Ireland’s partition have condemned the incident.

Mr. Coveney has been the target of loyalist harassment in the past. His picture was placed on anti-protocol banners displayed in a number of loyalist areas late last year. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was also the subject of intimidating graffiti.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson condemned the incident and said those who persisted with violence had little support, while Northern Ireland Foreign Secretary Brandon Lewis expressed “solidarity” with Mr Coveney.

Sinn Féin MP John Finucane said: “The attack on an event involving Minister Simon Coveney at the Houben Center in North Belfast today is a disgrace.

“Those behind the hijacking of a van left on church property have no place in society.”

Local priest Fr Gary Donegan, who also spoke at the event, said Mr Coveney was only continuing his speech for a few minutes when he was interrupted.

“I saw the Personal Security team waving at me and I wondered what they were asking me to do?

“They turned around and told me that someone had been kidnapped at gunpoint and had driven a van with an alleged device onto the site – and we had to get the minister out of there and evacuate the place. So we had to get rid of the minister immediately.”

He described the evacuation of the building, which he says is a “local community center.” He said a funeral was canceled by the evacuation.

“Whatever mindless people have done, what they did today, forget the actual event itself, but there is a grieving family that hasn’t even had a funeral now,” he said.

After being made aware of the looming situation, Mr Coveney told the audience he had to go and hoped to come back in a few minutes.

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 push us back – that will never succeed,” he said.

Former Deputy First Secretary Michelle O’Neill condemned the actions of those who targeted an event focused on peace, reconciliation and finding common ground.

“Those determined to cause instability and disruption will not succeed. Those of us who are committed to peace will not be deterred,” she 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 nationalists made attacks less likely.

https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/uvf-are-believed-to-be-behind-the-van-bomb-hoax-that-forced-coveney-off-stage-41489145.html UVF is believed to be behind the van bomb hoax that pushed Coveney off the stage

Fry Electronics Team

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