Dramatic op | 

High profile loyalist arrested and firearms seized over Simon Coveney bomb alert

The man aged 46 was arrested by specialist terrorist officers on the Shankill Road in Belfast on Wednesday morning

Police recover a car in the Disraeli Street area of north Belfast

Allison Morris

A high-profile loyalist is among two people arrested in a dramatic PSNI operation.

The man aged 46 was arrested by specialist terrorist officers on the Shankill Road in Belfast on Wednesday morning.

A second 51-year-old man was arrested in the Ballymena area, two suspected firearms have also been recovered.

Searches were carried out at a residential property in Ballysillan in north Belfast.

Simon Coveney, being ushered from the room due to a security alert

The arrest is believed to be in connection with a hoax bomb alert in March that resulted in Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney having to flee a peace building event.

During the incident loyalist gunmen hijacked a van from a workman in Sydney Street in the Shankill and told him that he would be shot or his family would be injured if he did not do as instructed.

An item, later discovered to be a hoax bomb, was then placed in the man’s van and the victim was ordered to drive it to the Houben Centre on the Crumlin Road, where Minister Coveney was attending a peace event.

The event was organised by the John and Pat Hume Foundation.

Mr Coveney later said of the attack: “I was there to speak about the profound legacy of John and Pat Hume as peacemakers and pioneers of reconciliation.

“What I was there to say that day was that the Good Friday Agreement was achieved by all and belongs to us all.

“That has to mean not just tolerance, but genuine respect and reconciliation”.

Police later said that the hoax bomb was the work of the UVF.

The attack on the event, linked to tensions over the Northern Ireland protocol, was believed to have been sanctioned by the leadership of the UVF.

Two people have already been charged in connection with the incident.

One of the men arrested on Wednesday is well known.

A police spokesperson said: “A 46-year-old male was arrested under the Terrorism Act in the Shankill area. Two suspected firearms have been recovered and a vehicle has been taken away for examination.

“As part of the operation, a 51 year-old male was arrested in the Ballymena area under the Terrorism Act. A van has been seized and taken away for examination.

“Both men are currently being questioned in the Serious Crime Suite of Musgrave police station in Belfast”.

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