A senior police officer has said the UVF is believed to have been behind today's security alert in Belfast that involved Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

Police said two armed men hijacked a van in which a device was placed sometime between 9-10am in the Shankill area of the city.

The driver of van was forced to drive to the Houben Centre near Ardoyne, which was hosting an event for the John and Pat Hume Foundation, believing there to be a real bomb onboard.

The event was abandoned and Minister Coveney, who was delivering a speech to the assembled guests, was escorted to a safe location.

Assistant PSNI Chief Constable Mark McEwan described the incident as a "disgraceful action".

The device turned out to be a hoax.

The PSNI said the driver of the van was taken for hospital treatment but did not give any details of his condition.

They said 25 homes had to be evacuated and elderly residents of a nursing home were moved to the rear of their building.

In a tweet, Mr Coveney said he was "saddened and frustrated" by the incident.

The minister had told the event: "The patient work of reconciliation and deepening of relationships does need to continue on our own island."

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis said: "Today's incident at the Houben Centre in north Belfast is a reminder that there is a small minority willing to use violence to advance their goals. My thoughts are with the driver who faced a terrifying ordeal, the family that was holding a funeral, as well as with Simon Coveney and everyone else who was impacted.

"These actions are reprehensible. I utterly condemn those involved and give my thanks and reiterate my full support to the PSNI and security partners and urge anyone with any information to contact the police."

Tim Attwood, from the foundation, said the alert was a reminder "to everyone that there is no role in our society for violence".

He added: "A suspect device will not stop the work of the John and Pat Hume Foundation."

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill tweeted: "I condemn the actions of those involved in a security alert at an event focused on peace, reconciliation and finding common-ground.

"Those determined to cause instability & disruption will not succeed. Those of us committed to peace will not be deterred."

The Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Labour MP Peter Kyle tweeted: "This is appalling news and deeply disturbing.

Additional reporting PA