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Allison Morris: Few more qualified to comment on legacy than Barra McGrory

Former DPP Barra McGrory makes some worthy points on legacy consultation
 

There are few people as qualified to give an opinion on how the past has been dealt with to date as Barra McGrory.

As Director of the Public Prosecutions, Mr McGrory, who has since returned to private practice as a much in demand QC, was Northern Ireland's senior prosecutor during a period when the past loomed large.

While in office he had on his desk the controversial Garry Haggarty supergrass case, the informer known as Steakknife killings, the Boston College tapes and prosecutions of former British soldiers among others.

In an interview with the Irish News, Mr McGrory said he didn't realise legacy would become such a huge part of his job or that his past private practice, during which he represented a number of high profile republicans, would be used to question his independence.

What his six bruising years in the top post did do was give him a unique insight into what is achievable in terms of dealing with the past - and more to the point what is not.

Some people will not like what he has to say.

While Mr McGrory was criticised by a number of Tory MPs for directing prosecutions against former soldiers he is now saying that a criminal justice response to the past may not be the right one.

And that the two parallel mechanisms (agreed during the Stormont House Agreement) are unworkable in practice, saying an information retrieval process similar to the Historic Abuse Inquiry could be the more effective way forward.

While the public are now being asked for their views on the past as part of a consultation, what Mr McGrory is proposing is very different from the options being discussed.

But already paramilitary groups have indicated privately they will not cooperate with truth recovery while they are still being criminally investigated.

Convictions are unlikely given the quality of evidence and passage of time, and with the moratorium on sentencing limited to just two years there are many who will agree with the senior QC's assessment.

Information gathered by victims families during either of the proposed legacy mechanism could realistically be used to take civil cases where the burden of proof is much lower.

This could, as Mr McGrory said, lead to endless litigation that could run for years even decades to come at great emotional and financial cost.

In his role as a prosecutor Mr McGrory was in effect gagged from making such bold and controversial statements, but his expertise in these matters should not be overlooked and his assessment on what has been the political failure to deal with the hurt of the past is one that many will agree with.

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