By Ruaidhrí Giblin
A pensioner who put a bomb on a bus bound for Dublin, and made hoax bomb threats during the Queen of England’s State visit to Ireland, is seeking to have his appeal heard in Irish.
Donall Billings (67), with an address at St Bridget’s Court, Drumlish, County Longford, was found guilty by the non-jury Special Criminal Court of possessing an explosive substance at Longford railway station car park on May 16th, 2011.
Billings was further convicted of making false reports on May 16 and May 18, 2011, that bombs had been placed at Busáras and Sinn Féin's headquarters in Dublin and that two mortars were set for Dublin Castle.
He was also found guilty of making a false report on May 20th that two bombs had been placed in the toilets at Cork airport. The Queen of England was visiting Ireland at the time.
Sentencing him to eight-and-a-half years imprisonment, Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding alongside Judge Martin Nolan and Judge Cormac Dunne, said that Billings was "perfectly entitled to hold a low opinion" of Queen Elizabeth and her visit to Ireland but "not entitled to express such an opinion by engaging in criminality".
He was given concurrent jail terms for making false reports.
Billings, whose trial was heard in both Irish and English, has lodged an appeal against his conviction and sentence, which was expected to be given a date for hearing today.
However, barrister Maria Brosnan told Mr Justice George Birmingham that Billings is seeking to have his appeal heard in Irish also.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the case would have to go back to a management list to facilitate an Irish court. Billings was not in court for the list to fix dates.
The Special Criminal Court heard that a phonecall was made to Longford garda station on May 16, 2011. The caller said there was a bomb on a Dublin-bound Corduff travel passenger bus, a second bomb on a bus at Busaras and a third bomb at Sinn Fein headquarters in Dublin.
The Corduff travel bus was stopped on Station Rd, Maynooth, and searched by gardai, who found a suspicious object, comprised of gunpowder and a two-litre bottle of petrol, in the luggage compartment.
Mr Justice Hunt said that Billings had placed a highly dangerous explosive on a public transport vehicle containing an innocent driver and many passengers.
This was an "outrageous, highly irresponsible and dangerous act", the judge said, which "recklessly exposed passengers, staff and members of the emergency services to very significant risk of serious injury or death".
The bomb, the judge added, was intended to give credence to further hoax calls Billings planned to make.
A further phonecall was made on May 18th, threatening two mortars were set at Dublin castle for 8pm that evening.
The time and place coincided with a state banquet in the castle for Queen Elizabeth.
The caller said:
Searches were carried out but nothing was found.
A third phone call, made at 3.15pm on May 20th, threatened two bombs at Cork airport. Queen Elizabeth was due to fly out that afternoon from the airport. After a search, nothing was found.
The investigations led to Billings being identified as a suspect.
Referring to Billings’ garda interviews, Mr Justice Hunt said that the "lies told by the accused were rather obvious and unsophisticated".
Billings has two previous convictions, from Northern Ireland in 1973, for possession of explosives.