Belfast Telegraph

Back to the Bar for Barra McGrory after a long and difficult road

COMMENT

By Suzanne Breen

Departing Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory certainly isn't saying that he was driven out of office by criticism from unionists and Tories over his handling of legacy issues.

Yet it's difficult to believe that the hurling of brickbats at Barra played no part in his decision to call it a day. "At times, he seemed, through no fault of his own, to be at the centre of as many disputes as Donald Trump," said one legal source.

Read More: Legacy issues will test my successor, says McGrory

Friends said that, as a very private person, Mr McGrory found being at the centre of such controversies hard to handle.

The sombre mood as he announced that he was stepping down yesterday was markedly different from the upbeat vibe when he gave his first press conference after becoming Northern Ireland's top prosecutor in November 2011.

Back then, he was bursting with enthusiasm about what he would do. He even replied in Irish to a question from one journalist.

While the outgoing DPP yesterday insisted that it had always been his intention to leave the post around now and return to practicing at the Bar, it's noteworthy that his predecessor - Sir Alasdair Fraser - stayed in the job for 11 years, twice as long as Mr McGrory.

While he was cautious in what he said yesterday, the feeling is that he will say a lot more after he hands over to his successor in September and is freed from the constraints of office.

Mr McGrory was the first Catholic DPP and some observers alleged that his religion is relevant to the criticism he met.

Former Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay tweeted: "First Catholic DPP repeatedly targeted by UUP/DUP. Nuala O'Loan faced similar when Ombudsman."

But what made life difficult for Mr McGrory wasn't his religion - the Attorney General, John Larkin, is also a Catholic - rather, it was the fact that he had previously represented Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. And grassroots unionists - not just their politicians - saw his decision on prosecuting former security force members, however unfairly, through that prism.

Mr McGrory has said he wishes that politicians had dealt with legacy issues. Nobody could dispute that our elected representatives have all disgracefully abdicated their responsibility for dealing with the past.

But, as citizens, we have also a major question to answer. Do we want continuing prosecutions for conflict-related crimes or should there be a universal amnesty?

Because there will have to be one rule for all, applying to former republicans, loyalists, and security force members alike. It's not feasible for us to want to cherry pick who is in the dock. If we continue to insist on doing so, no DPP will ever satisfy us.

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