Monday 23 September 2019

Man (66) jailed for eight years over bomb on bus and threat to queen

Gardaí show off items seized in the Donal Billings case, including a gun with bullets, two phones and a homemade bomb. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Gardaí show off items seized in the Donal Billings case, including a gun with bullets, two phones and a homemade bomb. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Daniel Hickey

A man who put an incendiary device on a Dublin-bound passenger bus and made bomb threats during the State visit of Queen Elizabeth five years ago has been jailed for eight-and-a-half years.

Donal Billings (66) was found guilty last month by the three-judge, non-jury Special Criminal Court of the unlawful possession of an explosive substance at Longford railway station car park on May 16, 2011.

Donal Billings. Pic Collins Courts.
Donal Billings. Pic Collins Courts.

Speaking after the sentencing yesterday, Detective Inspector Pat Finlay, of Longford garda station, said the investigation showed the challenges gardaí face in relation to individuals intent on disrupting State visits.

Billings was further convicted of knowingly making false reports tending to show that an offence had been committed. He was found guilty of making a false report within the State on May 16, 2011, that bombs had been placed at Busáras in Dublin and at Sinn Féin's headquarters.

He was also convicted of making a false report on May 18 that two mortars were set for Dublin Castle, and with making a false report on May 20 that two bombs had been placed in the toilets at Cork Airport. At the time, Queen Elizabeth was visiting the country.

At yesterday's sentence hearing, Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, with 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".

On May 16, 2011, a call was made to Longford garda station.

The caller said there was a bomb on a Dublin-bound Corduff Travel passenger bus, a second bomb on a bus at Busáras and at Sinn Féin headquarters in Dublin.

The Corduff Travel bus was stopped on Station Road, Maynooth, and searched by gardaí, who found a suspicious object, comprising gunpowder and a two-litre bottle of petrol, in the luggage compartment.

Mr Justice Hunt said that Billings, with an address at St Bridget's Court, Drumlish, Co Longford, 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.

After finding the bomb, gardaí also searched the Sinn Féin offices in Dublin and another bus. Nothing was found.

A further call was made on May 18, threatening two mortars were set at Dublin Castle for 8pm that day.

The time and place coincided with a State banquet in the castle for Queen Elizabeth.

The caller said: "This is for the queen of blood and war of Iraq."

Searches were carried out, but nothing was found.

The Garda investigation had begun three days earlier, focussing initially on the phone number used to make the calls.

The caller was using an 086 number, the Sim card for which, gardaí discovered, was bought in an O2 shop in Longford on May 16.

Further information was generated through analysis of mobile phone records and CCTV. The investigations led to Billings being identified as a suspect.

A surveillance operation was put in place and on May 20, Billings was followed from his home in Drumlish to a car park in Longford.

His car was searched and the Sim card for the 086 phone number was found. On the packaging of the Sim card there was Longford garda station's phone number, the registration number of the Corduff bus and the Irish words 'Cor dubh'.

Gardaí also found a bottle of petrol and a makeshift funnel.

Billings (pictured) has two previous convictions, from Northern Ireland in 1973, for possession of explosives.

Speaking after the sentencing outside the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin, Detective Inspector Finlay said: "This investigation highlights the challenges that An Garda Síochána is facing, and particularly in relation to this one, when you had an individual who was capable and intent on causing disruption to a State visit."

Irish Independent

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