Well-known loyalist arrested by police probing Coveney security alert appears in court on firearm and ammunition charges
June 11 2022 03:01 PM
A well-known loyalist has been remanded in custody after a court was told that police discovered weapons and ammunition in a bag in the boot of his car.
Winston Irvine, 46, from Ballysillan in north Belfast, was arrested on Wednesday as police were investigating a security alert that led to Irish Government minister Simon Coveney being evacuated from a peace event.
Irvine has been charged with possession of a firearm and ammunition in suspicious circumstances, possession of a prohibited firearm, possession of a handgun without a certificate and possession of ammunition without a certificate.
He appeared by videolink at Belfast Magistrates’ Court on Saturday wearing a red T-shirt.
Asked if he understood the charges, Irvine said: “Yes, I do.”
A PSNI detective inspector told the court he could connect Irvine to the charges.
The officer told the court that officers had planned an operation to arrest Irvine on Wednesday in relation to “an unrelated matter”.
He said police observed Irvine’s car in Glencairn Street when a van parked behind it and Irvine was seen opening the boot of his vehicle.
The detective inspector said Irvine was then stopped in Disraeli Street and officers discovered a number of firearms, magazines and more than 200 rounds of ammunition in a holdall in the boot.
The officer told the court that Irvine said he had not been aware of what was in bag.
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A search of Irvine’s home discovered a quantity of cash as well as a UVF plaque and pendants, the court heard.
The detective inspector objected to an application for bail.
He said: “The police case would be that this has the hallmarks of a paramilitary operation, given the amount of ammunition and range of weaponry and component parts that were found, that this is typical of the type of stuff that paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland have access to.
“Persons who would have access to such large amounts would only be trusted members of the organisation.”
Defence lawyer Joe Brolly told the court that Irvine should be granted bail.
He said: “The applicant for bail is a renowned peace builder in this community.
“A simple internet search will show over the last 15 years he has been intensively involved in the peace process, in reconciliation and in peace programmes.
“He has worked across the divide for the last 20 years, that is not in dispute.
“He not only works with ex-loyalist prisoners but is also engaged intensively with ex-republican prisoners and continues to do so.
“He has publicly spent his life advocating peace in difficult situations.
“There are tensions, particularly in the loyalist community, and his role throughout is to keep a lid on this.”
District Judge George Conner denied the application for bail, saying a “significant haul of weapons and ammunition” had been recovered.
Irvine was remanded in custody to appear in court again on July 1.
A 51-year-old man arrested in Ballymena on Wednesday as part of the same investigation remains in custody.
The two arrests were made as part of a PSNI investigation into a security alert on March 25 when a peace event, organised by the John and Pat Hume Foundation, was disrupted.
The Houben Centre in the Crumlin Road was evacuated while Mr Coveney was giving an address and a funeral service at nearby Holy Cross Church was disrupted.
Police said the driver of a van was threatened by two gunmen and forced to drive a device, which he believed to be a live bomb, to the church.
The item in the van turned out to be a hoax bomb.