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Praise due to retiring Barra McGrory

Barra McGrory is owed a considerable debt of gratitude as he prepares to stand down from his demanding and complex role as director of public prosecutions.

When he was appointed in 2011, he would have been well aware that, in a deeply and almost evenly divided society, he was the first person regarded as coming from the Catholic and nationalist tradition to take on the crucial responsibility as head of the prosecution service.

Mr McGrory undoubtedly hoped that he would be judged on his record rather than his perceived background but he quickly found that some figures on both sides of the Irish Sea had other preoccupations.

He set out to reform and modernise an office which had been inevitably shaped by the upheavals of more than four decades of violence and upheaval and can point to a firm range of achievements in this regard.

Our politicians on all sides had entirely failed to produce structures capable of dealing with legacy issues, and much of the enormous burden was instead transferred to the judicial process in general and the prosecution service in particular.

Mr McGrory was entitled to expect that the same elected representatives would accept that they shared a responsibility for the impasse and might offer a reasonable degree of support for those who were trying to address the calamities of the past.

Instead, many of the comments forthcoming from Stormont parties were along predictably tribal lines, some Conservative MPs were reduced to engaging in personal abuse and there was a noticeably ill-judged intervention from secretary of state James Brokenshire earlier this year.

Mr Brokenshire, writing in the Sunday Telegraph last January, said that, in terms of investigations into unsolved killings during the Troubles, he felt it was clear that `the current focus is disproportionately on those who worked for the state'.

This was widely viewed as a criticism of Mr McGrory until detailed figures were released which demonstrated that the number of prosecutions of alleged paramilitaries was five times higher over the last five years than the total for British soldiers.

Mr McGrory might well have felt that anyone entering such a sensitive debate should have carried out at least a basic level of research, but he avoided a public row, got on with his work and, after completing six years in his post, is now returning to private practice.

He leaves with the best wishes of all those who believe that the criminal justice system must be left untouched by political influences and instead maintained through the highest possible professional standards.

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