Simon Coveney: Irish foreign minister rushed off stage in Belfast - what happened and what has been said?

Simon Coveney was five minutes into a speech at an event hosted by The John and Pat Hume Foundation when he was quickly ushered off stage

<p>Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney was rushed off stage after a security alert during a speech in Belfast. (Credit: Getty Images)</p>

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney was rushed off stage after a security alert during a speech in Belfast. (Credit: Getty Images)

The Irish foreign minister was forced off stage in Belfast after a major security alert.

Simon Coveney was ushered away five minutes into the speech he was making during an event hosted by The John and Pat Hume Foundation.

Alongside the foreign minister, all attendees at the event were also escorted off premises.

But what was the security alter, and what happened at the event?

Here’s everything you need to know.

What was the security alert in Belfast?

The alert was raised after a suspicious device was found inside a van which had been parked outside The Houben Centre in Belfast.

The van had appeared to be hijacked.

As a result Mr Coveney and all attendees were evacuated from the building as emergency services shut roads in the surrounding areas.

In a statement, a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) spokesperson said: “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.

“There are no further details at this stage.”

What happened to Simon Coveney?

Mr Coveney was five minutes into a speech in which he spoke about the importance of reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

He said: “The patient work of reconciliation and deepening of relationships does need to continue on our own island.”

However, he was quickly ushered off stage once organisers and the security team were made aware of the suspicious package in the car park outside.

A spokesperson for Mr Coveney later confirmed that the minister and his team were safe.

They said: “The minister and team are safe, have been taken to a secure location and the PSNI are doing their work.”

In a tweet after the event, Mr Coveney said: “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 thoughts are with him & his family.”

What has the reaction been to the security alert in Belfast?

Irish politicians have roundly condemned the incident.

Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein leader of Stormont, said: “Those determined to cause instability and disruption will not succeed. Those of us committed to peace will not be deterred.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson added communities “want to get on with their lives and have no truck with those who cling to violence”.

Church of Ireland Archbishop the Rev John McDowell said: “Peace and stability in Northern Ireland are maintained and advanced through good relationships at all levels within Ireland and across these islands, and there is no place for violence or the threat of violence in our society.”

The UK’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary added: “This is appalling news and deeply disturbing.

“I had the privilege of meeting the Hume Foundation last week, their work is based on reconciliation and is important.

“I hope Simon Coveney’s presentation resumes safely and soon.”

Tim Attwood, chair of the John and Pat Hume Foundation, which seeks to advocate for peaceful reconciliation in Northern Ireland, said that the security alert was “disconcerting”.

He said: “It’s very disconcerting that an important event on the theme of building common ground, which is seeking to build relationships in Northern Ireland was ended suddenly by a bomb alert.

“This is the first physical event the foundation is hosting in Northern Ireland because of COVID. The days of violence or threats of violence are long gone.

“The Pat Hume Foundation is committed to the values of peace and we continue our journey of peace and reconciliation.”

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