Criticism nothing to do with decision to quit, says PPS chief Barra McGrory
Northern Ireland's under-fire Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) insisted his decision to quit was not brought about by the criticism he has faced over his handling of historic cases.
Barra McGrory QC has led the prosecution service since November 2011 and made the announcement on Wednesday morning he was to step down at the end of his term in September.
He said he regretted the legacy issue had become part of the story of his tenure and how he "wished" the mechanisms were in place to deal with the past and investigations into Troubles cases.
"If all of the legacy controversy had not happened we would still be having this conversation," said Mr McGrory.
He added: "My heart lies in the representative role. I left that with the intention of returning to it. I have absolutely not been pushed out because of legacy.
"Legacy is going to be difficult for any prosecutor because the conflict will be relived in some senses. All decisions will be viewed through the prism of the different communities' views."
He added: "It was an unanticipated aspect of the job.
"I wish the political architects of the peace process had dealt with legacy."
Mr McGrory is the third to head the service since the office was established in 1972 and the first Catholic.
He added: "It has been an honour to have led the Public Prosecution Service for the past five and a half years and the highest privilege of my professional career to have served the people of this jurisdiction as director of Public Prosecutions.
"I have enjoyed working with a tremendously talented team within the PPS and I look forward to continuing this important work until my term in office ends this year."
Mr McGrory has strongly defended his office against claims by both Conservative and DUP MPs that the authorities are pursuing a witch-hunt against Northern Ireland veterans.
The PPS has also strongly defended its record, saying recently that it has mounted five times more cases against alleged paramilitaries than soldiers in five years.
Before Mr McGrory took up the post, he was one of Northern Ireland's best known criminal lawyers, representing Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, but also loyalist paramilitaries and unionist politicians.
In a number of cases, the DPP recused himself from decisions that could be perceived as being linked to his former clients.
The DPP said anyone who understood the legal profession would know lawyers represent anyone who seeks their representation.
In December, it was announced two former soldiers were to be prosecuted for allegedly murdering Official IRA commander Joe McCann. It is thought to be the second military prosecution involving Northern Ireland since the 1990s.
Another former soldier, Dennis Hutchings, who is in his 70s and from Cornwall, has been charged with attempted murder in 2015.
Last night, Ulster Unionist MLA and Westminster candidate Doug Beattie said the unexpected move could rebuild confidence in the justice system.
The Military Cross recipient added the sudden announcement "comes amidst a great deal of disquiet as to how the office has operated".