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7 March 2016

DPP between rock and a hard place with legacy cases

Barra McGrory
Barra McGrory

The unease in unionist circles about the Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory, has been exacerbated in the last few days by the collapse of the Omagh case against Seamus Daly and comments from the PSNI Chief Constable about the Public Prosecution Service.

When he was appointed in 2011 reference was made, particularly in unionist circles, to the fact that he was Gerry Adams' solicitor at the time of his appointment, acted for Bloody Sunday families, and helped negotiate on behalf of on-the-runs.

He did not seem, on the face of it, to be an obvious choice for a job as a servant of the Crown, but to Mr McGrory's credit there is no evidence that he has carried out his duties other than in an impartial and professional manner.

Who'd want to take a job with such awful baggage, where your every decision will be denounced by one community or the other?

His critics allege he failed to excuse himself from all politically contentious decisions and has ratified many decisions to drop charges against Sinn Fein/IRA members, while approving charges against loyalists and dissidents that have, alike, been considered "outrageous" and short on evidence.

Certainly, loyalists, who already believed that they were being unfairly targeted by the State, had their prejudices reinforced by the disastrous 2012 supergrass trial.

The PPS' explanation of why this £20m fiasco had been allowed to go ahead did not alleviate their concerns.

Mr McGrory has also rejected widespread criticism of his decision not to charge Adams with withholding information about his paedophile brother, Liam.

Then there was the matter of the PSNI pursuit of the Boston College interviews that had implicated Adams.
Since the evidence would have been inadmissible, some think the objective was what happened - the discrediting and wrecking of a project that would have been invaluable for historians.

The problem for Mr McGrory is that such perceptions are often unfairly fuelled by events.

For instance, although there were criticisms that the collapse of the case against Daly was the fault of the PPS, it's clear that it could neither have predicted nor prevented a mysterious change of evidence from a key witness who had not been under its protection.

Chief Constable George Hamilton told a terror victims' conference last week that he understood the perceptions that investigations into the murders of their loved ones are being "shunted to the side while other cases, many of which involved State actors, seem to be getting progressed".

However, the choice of targets for the PSNI's legacy investigation branch "is largely determined by circumstances outside my control".

Under the 2002 Criminal Justice Act "there is a duty on me, when requested by the Director of Public Prosecutions, to supply information, to ascertain facts and report to him".

This was, he explained, effectively "an investigation... and it is actually in those cases that the majority of my legacy investigations branch officers are occupied at the moment".

Resources were finite, but "I have no option but to fulfil those legal obligations".

We all know that Sinn Fein's strategy, as it seeks to rewrite history, is to focus attention on State misdeeds.

These days, it would like us to blame the State for every Troubles murder.

All too many victims of terrorism believe the system disregards them and is dancing to the republican tune. Of course, that is not true.

No matter what the DPP does, he will be criticised from some angle. In a jurisdiction where, all too often, unfounded prejudices become entrenched beliefs, Mr McGrory may be required to engage in greater communication with victims of terrorists than would otherwise be the case, to ensure the PPS has the confidence of all sections of Northern Ireland's community.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, will be published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards