Belfast Telegraph

Queen's visit bus bomber Donal Billings goes on jail hunger strike

By Suzanne Breen

A man who planted a bomb on a bus during the Queen's visit to Ireland has gone on hunger strike in jail after clashing with the New IRA prison leadership.

Republicans have claimed that pensioner Donal Billings, a graduate of Queen's University Belfast, began refusing food in Portlaoise prison yesterday after he was thrown off a republican landing and forced onto a criminal wing.

Supporters of the 68-year-old claim that he has been subject to "bullying and intimidation" by the New IRA prison leadership.

A brother of H-Block hunger striker Patsy O'Hara last night said the situation in the jail was intolerable and some republicans were "doing the job of the British".

A spokesman for the Irish Republican National Congress, which is representing Mr Billings, said he had clashed with New IRA leaders in the jail on several issues.

"The first was over prison craft. He was not allowed to decide what he made himself. There was a row over him making a bodhran for his son," the spokesman said.

"There was also a dispute over him speaking Irish.

"He is a fluent Irish speaker and speaks Irish all the time. Some people didn't like it as they couldn't understand what he was saying.

"We are very worried about him going on hunger strike because of his age and the fact that he has a heart condition."

The Irish Republican Prisoners' Welfare Association, which looks after New IRA prisoners, didn't respond to requests for comment.

Billings, who was born in Dublin and was imprisoned in the Maze in the 1970s, married a Belfast woman on release.

He was a mature student at Queen's University in the late 1980s and lived in west Belfast.

In December 2016, Billings was jailed for eight-and-a-half years after he planted a bomb on a bus during the Queen's 2011 visit to Ireland.

He was living in Drumlish, Co Longford, at the time of his arrest and conviction. Gardai found a pistol and bullets after they arrested him.

Billings had created his bomb by packing a pipe full of gunpowder and petrol and hooking it up to a fireworks timer.

He was caught after calling the Garda with a bomb warning. The bus travelling from Ballina to Dublin was stopped at Maynooth.

The court heard that the 31 passengers had been exposed to the very significant risk of injury or death.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt described it as an outrageous, dangerous and highly irresponsible act.

Billings was also found guilty of four charges of making hoax bomb threats claiming 'mortars' would detonate at Dublin Castle during a State banquet attended by the Queen.

He also made fake bomb threats against a Sinn Fein office in Dublin. He was caught after gardai traced phone records and SIM cards.

In one telephone call, he said: "I am a member of the Republican Brotherhood squad A. This is for the Queen of blood, war in Iraq."

Billings, who was not a member of any paramilitary organisation and acted independently, was housed in the E1 landing in Portlaoise for unaligned republican prisoners.

But republicans said that the New IRA leadership, which is in charge of E3 and E4, was now in control of E1 and had forced him off it. Billings has received support from Republican Sinn Fein, the Republican Network for Unity, and the Irish Republican Socialist Party.

After the republican was convicted for incident during the Queen's visit, former loyalist prisoner Ronnie McCullough recalled how Billings had stopped other republicans from attacking a loyalist inmate in Long Kesh in 1972.

It was repayment for an incident when prison officers placed Billings in a loyalist compound hoping he would be attacked, but they let him go unharmed.

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