Court rules ex-IRA bomb maker can still work as a taxi driver
A man who was considered one of the IRA's most capable bomb makers and was previously sentenced to 20 years in jail for terrorist offences is a suitable person to hold a licence to drive a taxi, a judge ruled yesterday.
John Conaty (54), of St Attracta Road, Cabra, Dublin, because of his court convictions, was due under new stringent new taxi licence legislation to face disqualification from driving or operating a taxi.
However Judge Jacqueline Linnane said that, having read evidence of Mr Conaty's community work and having heard Garda evidence, she was satisfied he was a suitable person to be allowed to continue to hold a public service vehicle licence.
The taxi driver was once the most wanted IRA terrorist in the UK and was subject to a Scotland Yard manhunt in 1989 linked to a bomb factory in Clapham, south London.
While Conaty was never picked up by English police, he was eventually arrested by the gardai's Special Detective Unit in Co Laois on June 20, 1996 when gardai found mortars, timing devices, armour-piercing grenades and switches used in booby-trap car bombs and Semtex explosives.
Conaty and two of his IRA associates were jailed for 20 years at the Special Criminal Court for the offence in February, 1998.
Conaty was also found guilty of having a semi-automatic pistol and seven rounds of ammunition with intent to endanger life on the same date.
After sentencing, he gave a clenched-fist salute and shouted pro-IRA slogans to loud applause from supporters in the public gallery.
The discovery of the Clonaslee, Co Laois, bomb factory was probably the single most important blow to the IRA by the Garda Special Detective Unit in the 1990s and gardai pounced on it two weeks after the IRA murdered Garda Jerry McCabe in Co Limerick.
As part of the Good Friday Agreement, Conaty was released from Portlaoise Prison in October, 1998.
It all seemed a very long way yesterday when Mr Conaty sat impassively at the back of Dublin Circuit Civil Court where he applied for an order directing that he was a suitable person, and not of any threat or danger to the public, to drive a taxi.
The court heard that Conaty had been a licensed taxi driver in the Republic since 2002, but under new legislation governing the holding of a Small Public Service Vehicle Licence he would be disqualified from this month from holding such a licence because of his previous convictions.
Superintendent David Taylor told the court Mr Conaty had not come under adverse notification of the gardai since his release and the judge ruled he can continue to work.