By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A former Irish soldier who had no paramilitary connections was recruited in prison by extreme republican dissidents as the courier to deliver a massive car bomb to Britain last April.
The bomb, which was twice the size of the similar device that killed 29 in Omagh last August, was intercepted by gardai as the BMW car in which it was packed queued to board a ferry in Dun Laoghaire two days before the Aintree Grand National.
The Special Criminal Court jailed Larry Keane, 41, a father of six from Athy, for 15 years on a variety of explosives charges.
He had pleaded guilty and admitted he had been paid an advance £300 of a £2,000 fee to transport the 980-pound bomb to England and then hand it over when he got there.
He was wearing a wig and carrying a false passport when gardai arrested him.
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Keane had served in the army from 1974 to 1980 and had been recruited in Portlaoise Prison, where he had been serving a sentence for assault.
He told Gardai he was "in it for a few bob" and thought he was only transporting parts for a bomb.
"If I could turn to clock back, I wouldn’t get involved," he said.
The car had been stolen in Dublin two weeks before it was stopped at the ferryport on April 2. Extra springs had been fitted so the weight of the bomb in the boot was not noticeable.
The interception of the device was the first indication that extreme dissident republican groups opposed to the peace process were willing to start a bombing campaign on the British mainland in a bid to wreck the multiparty talks.
In 1997, during the British general election, a bomb scare at Aintree outside Liverpool led to the evacuation of the racecourse and the abandonment of the Grand National — the most famous horse race over fences in the world.
The race was run later when the meeting was reconvened with then-Prime Minister John Major in attendance.