Northern Ireland news

Barra McGrory: An unenviable job that was always going to be controversial

Barra McGrory made history when he became the first Catholic Director of Prosecutions in 2011. Picture by Hugh Russell

WHEN Barra McGrory was announced as the new Director of Public Prosecutions in 2011 it was an historic moment - a Catholic, holding one of the most important roles in the once unionist-dominated legal world of Northern Ireland.

A son of prominent solicitor PJ McGrory, who had spent most of his career practising under threat of death from the same loyalists that murdered Pat Finucane, his appointment shocked many.

At first he enjoyed a honeymoon period both politically and with the media.

The office of public prosecutions was previously a closed shop. Barra McGrory sought to change that, to remove the mystique surrounding decisions and engage with journalists to provide more information to the public.

Mr McGrory excluded himself from any decisions involving former clients or conflicts of interest linked to cases he was involved in during his time in private practice.

But the inability of politicians to deal with legacy issues was always going to cause problems for a man viewed with suspicion by unionists as 'Gerry Adams's former solicitor'.

Mr McGrory, who spoke of how he also represented members of unionist parties and loyalist paramilitaries during a 30-year career, knew his motives would be questioned whatever decision he came to in Troubles cases.

His successor will not doubt hope to be judged more kindly but in Northern Ireland, where controversy accompanies every aspect of dealing with our troubled past, it is a set of shoes few will want to fill.

Proposals are currently gaining traction in Westminster for a statute of limitations that will in effect draw a line in the sand under future prosecutions of security force members. If proceeded with, such decisions would be removed from the PPS.

But with decreasing budgets and increasing pressures on the office to deliver a more efficient service, anyone brave enough to throw their hat in the ring will still be expected to hit the ground running.

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