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Legacy issues will test my successor, says departing DPP Barra McGrory

By Adrian Rutherford

Northern Ireland's top prosecutor has warned his successor will face continued difficulties because of political deadlock on Troubles-era cases.

Barra McGrory said controversy over legacy issues had become "the story" of his five-year term as Director of Public Prosecutions. Confirming he was standing down from the role, Mr McGrory said the past had been an "unanticipated aspect" of the job.

Read More: Back to the Bar for Barra after a long and difficult road

He also criticised the ongoing failure to resolve the issue, saying: "I wish the political architects of the peace process had dealt with legacy."

Mr McGrory was appointed Director of Public Prosecutions in November 2011, becoming the first Catholic to hold the role.

However, in recent times he has faced criticism over the prosecution of former soldiers for Troubles-era killings.

Unionists called for his resignation after prosecutors reinstated attempted murder charges against ex-soldier Dennis Hutchings (75) over the 1974 shooting of John-Pat Cunningham.

A judge previously said there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the charge against Hutchings.

Announcing his intention to step down in September, Mr McGrory said it was "absolutely not because of legacy".

However, sources close to Mr McGrory said he felt dealing with legacy issues had become "a nightmare", and cited "personal abuse" he has received.

Mr McGrory said the absence of political agreement meant the issue would continue to cause problems.

"Legacy is going to be very difficult for any prosecutor ... that is the reality - it's going to be difficult," he said.

"The reality is that the conflict would be relived in some senses and, in terms of the prosecution service's place, it will have to deal with that.

"All decisions will be viewed, it seems, through the prism of the different communities' view of what happened.

"That makes it difficult for the prosecutor to function in a calm and reasoned environment.

"That doesn't make the job any easier - that has been my experience and I don't think any other prosecutor is going to find it easier."

He said it was unfortunate that legacy controversy had come to define his term in office.

"One of my regrets is that legacy has become the story of my tenure here, rather than what I feel ought to be the real story," he added.

"If I have a regret that is it - but it's not of my making.

"People need to understand that these issues arise and have to be addressed.

"That was an unanticipated aspect of the job when I commenced, but it became apparent very quickly that it would be an issue."

Mr McGrory said he always intended to step down around this time to go back to practising at the Bar, adding: "I had a five or six-year plan when I agreed to take on the role.

"My heart lies in the representative role - within criminal justice - and I hope to return to that. I left that, but always with a view that I would be returning to it, because I thought this was an important job and I was honoured to be given the opportunity to do it."

Ulster Unionist election candidate Danny Kinahan welcomed Mr McGrory's departure.

"Barra McGrory's decision to step down from his role as the Director of Public Prosecutions will be welcomed by many people who have watched with dismay at certain decisions under his stewardship," he said.

But SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "The attacks of right-wing apologist DUP and Tory MPs on the work of the PPS during his tenure have plumbed new depths of hypocrisy.

"Their approach seems to suggest that the law should apply to everyone apart from former British soldiers.

"We have to deal with the legacy of the past in a comprehensive way. There can be no hiding place for those in paramilitary or state forces who are seeking to resist truth and accountability."

Former Justice Minister David Ford said Mr McGrory had always "acted fairly and properly".

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