A Longford pensioner who put a bomb on a bus during the Queen’s visit to Ireland in 2011 has lost an appeal against his conviction, which argued that his Irish language rights were violated during the trial.
Dónal Billings, 67, was arrested in 2011 after he was found with an explosive device at Longford railway station during the Queen’s historic visit to Ireland. He was also charged with making a number of false reports between May 16 and May 18, 2011, where he claimed that bombs had been planted at Busáras and the Sinn Féin headquarters in Dublin. Billings also claimed that two mortars were planned for Dublin Castle, where the Queen’s reception was taking place.
Billings was also found guilty of making a false report that two bombs had been placed in toilets at Cork Airport on May 20, 2011.
Billings appealed his eight and a half year sentence at the Special Criminal Court on the grounds that his Irish language rights were ‘destroyed’ during his initial trial.
Martin Giblin, counsel for Billings, argued that his client had requested to be tried by judges who could converse through Irish as far back as 2011 when he was first arrested. Giblin also argued that Billings’ request for a transcript that recorded everything that was said in Irish or English, and that his client was only ever provided with an English transcript.
Continuing his argument through Irish, Giblin said that the State, including the Special Criminal Court and the Director of Public Prosecutions, had a duty to respect the constitution and to protect personal constitutional rights.
Giblin also submitted that the Explosive Substances Act 1883, under which his client was tried and convicted, had never been translated into Irish.
However, Justice George Birmingham dismissed the appeal, stating that Billings’ constitutional rights had not been violated to such an extent that the charges should be dropped. He also stated that since the Explosive Substances Act predated the Irish State and was passed by Westminster, it was exempt from any appeals. The fact that it was not translated into Irish was not the result of an “inertia,” but that a conscious decision had been made not to translate pre-1922 statutes.
Justice Birmingham also said that Billings had “no right” to any transcript during the trial, be it in Irish or English. Irish courts do not normally make any transcripts available to the defendant, and there is “no entitlement” to such a transcript.
According to Justice Birmingham, the fact that a transcript was only provided in English did not render Billings’ case unfair or unsatisfactory.
He said the DPP may carry out its functions in the official language of its own choice and was “not compelled to adopt the preferred official language of the accused person.”