Barra McGrory has a better view of justice than politicians who undermine it with thoughtless talk

If someone with Barra McGrory’s background and CV cannot be trusted to perform the duties of DPP fairly, we may as well hand the whole justice system to a UN commission of Finns, Norwegians and a few Daleks.  What his glib critics disregard first is the freemasonry ( metaphorical term)  of the legal profession across the divide which survived the Troubles and helped make him the  right person at the right time for this high profile  job.  It’s also worth saying that all the top legal posts – chief justice, attorney general  and director of public  prosecutions  are held by Catholics without the roof falling in  or any  charge of political bias sticking in how they do their jobs, McGrory included.

One of the better achievements of the Executive was one of the last planks to be put in place, the devolution of justice in 2010. It wasn’t easy.  It took three years to agree following the St Andrews Agreement.  An essential condition was Sinn Fein signing up to supporting the police and signing – with all the others – a reinforced pledge of office

to uphold the rule of law based as it is on the fundamental principles of fairness, impartiality and democratic accountability, including support for policing and the courts as set out in paragraph 6 of the St Andrews Agreement;’‘We believe that the essential elements of support for law and order include endorsing fully the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the criminal justice system, actively encouraging everyone in the community to co-operate fully with the PSNI in tackling crime in all areas and actively supporting all the policing and criminal justice institutions, including the Policing Board.’

Over McGrory we are now in the novel position of seeing a law officer criticised by unionists for doing his job impartially.

Legacy issues are the elephant in the room. The British government has a role under national security and the local parties are deadlocked. Key elements of the justice system are of course independent of political control  such as the judiciary the attorney general ( not a politician here, unlike GB/ England)  and the director of public prosecutions.  As the deadlock is highly political it has made life difficult for the independent justice system.

Northern Ireland is not alone in this.  In GB politicians have become more vocal in criticising  the operation of the system in ways which senior  judges believe is now encroaches on their independence.  Theresa May as Home Secretary fatuously  caricatured  a judicial ruling delaying a  deportation on the grounds that looking after his cat was part of his right to a family life under the Human Rights Act she plainly loathes, because if its rooting in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Recently the Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of  England and Wales  made an unprecedented  direct attack on the justice secretary and Lord Chancellor Liz Truss for failing to observe her oath of office and defend judges from Daily Mail assault, when the paper described them as “enemies of the people” for ruling that Parliament should be able to vote on the terms of the Article 50 for leaving the EU.

Referring to the article 50 Brexit court case, he told the House of Lords constitution select committee Truss was “completely and utterly wrong” to say she could not criticise the media.

“There’s a difference between criticism and abuse,” Thomas said, “and I don’t think that’s understood.”

The same distinction can be made  over the decisions of the  NI director  of public prosecutions Barra Magrory who has announced his resignation at the end of a five year term at a difficult time. But then all times are difficult here.

He was cut from a different cloth from his more anonymous predecessors who also operated in times of emergency and when human rights tests were less legally rigorous.

Not long after his appointment the Daily Mail again figures, when it called on him to be sacked because of his legal association with Gerry Adams

Confirming he was standing down from the role, Mr McGrory said the past had been an “unanticipated aspect” of the job.

“I  wish the political architects of the peace process had dealt with legacy.”

Unionists called for his resignation after prosecutors reinstated attempted murder charges against ex-soldier Dennis Hutchings (75) over the 1974 shooting of John-Pat Cunningham.

Announcing his intention to step down in September, Mr McGrory said it was “absolutely not because of legacy”. However, sources close to Mr McGrory said he felt dealing with legacy issues had become “a nightmare”, and cited “personal abuse” he has received.

Mr McGrory said the absence of political agreement meant the issue would continue to cause problems. “Legacy is going to be very difficult for any prosecutor … that is the reality – it’s going to be difficult,” he said. “The reality is that the conflict would be relived in some senses and, in terms of the prosecution service’s place, it will have to deal with that.

The attacks on Barra  McGrory are unwarranted.  Instead of supporting due process and guarding his role as a political mediator,  the secretary of state James Brokenshire  adopted the domestic Conservative populist role. With crass ill-timing, he entered into the controversy over inquiries into army conduct and claimed there was “ an apparent “imbalance” that had led to a “disproportionate” focus on criminal inquiries involving former soldiers.

“I am clear the current system is not working and we are in danger of seeing the past rewritten,” he says.

The Cabinet minister’s admission will fuel urgent demands to end a series of police investigations into historical killings, many of them more than 40 years old.

Without prejudice to the ex- soldiers’ cases, Brokenshire’s implied criticisms of not only the DPP but the chief justice for championing historic inquests have made the restoration of the  Assembly that bit more difficult.  His comments and those of Barra McGrory’s other critics should have no affect whatever on the administration of justice.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • james

    Thank you. I think it’s good to actually address the points he made – rather than the GOM technique of burying them in sectarian gibberish.

    I’ve no idea on what his appountment was based – but it’s an important conversation to have.

  • Brian Walker

    I’ve read Bryson’s article which is full of smears based mainly on family connections and drawing conclusions based on client relationships. While it might be defamatory I don’t understand why McGrory took it under his notice.

    This from the rascal who was bare faced enough to be put up to accuse Peter Robinson of corruption without producing a scrap of evidence. If Bryson is your best witness you’re obviously desperate.

  • AntrimGael

    On another tangent Arlene going very red and looking very sheepish and evasive over the Brexit donation on The View. Mark Carruthers doing a fine Paxman filleting job, he is an excellent journalist.

  • eireanne3

    any chance of a you tube link?

  • AntrimGael

    Technically I am a bit green but it will be on the BBC I Player I am sure. Carruthers really dissecting Foster here.

  • Granni Trixie

    I cannot speak for APNI. My personal position is that Jamie Bryson is not comparible with people qualified for positions such as DPP.

  • Granni Trixie


  • Brendan Heading

    Barra’s treatment was disgraceful and amounted to an attack on the criminal justice system for craven political purposes. It was particularly disgraceful to see UK MPs publicly criticising the DPP from the safety of the Parliamentary chamber.

    That said, does anyone believe that if a unionist-leaning QC – there are several who spring to mind (Bob McCartney, Jim Allister ?) – had been appointed as the DPP, and it became known that he had opted not to attempt to prosecute a group of soldiers over a troubles-related incident, that Sinn Féin and others would have allowed it to pass without comment ?

  • Brendan Heading

    The criminal justice is not, at the sharp end, concerned with victims and whether or not they should be overlooked; it is concerned with whether or not the evidence exists to bring forward criminal prosecutions and whether or not those prosecutions are in the public interest.

  • Gopher

    Do those CSI programmes involve Terrorism based on nationality, race, religion and ideology? or is it just run of the mill crime? Whats the American position on lawyers who have represented the mafia?

  • Zig70

    Shameful part of our history to have political removal of someone from their post due to religion. Still you have the impression that unionists would lock us all up without trial all over again. I hope SF get their eye wiped again for whatever they have been promised in playing this kind of game.

  • Madra Uisce

    Spot on I am constantly amazed at the ignorance of how the PPS and court system works

  • Madra Uisce

    Have you recently arrive on planet earth?

  • james

    He’s not ‘my’ witness at all – much less my best one. My point to GOM was simply that he should drop the infantile sneering and engage with something he disagrees with – though he doesn’t appear to have the equipment to do that.

  • james


  • Dan

    I’ve read the opening sentence of the article a few times now.

  • johnny lately

    Its not within my gift to get a government up and running T.E. I normally dont take part in British elections but I agree with Arlene on this one that its a mini border poll. Its all down to numbers now and every election from here on in will be judged as such.

  • Brendan Heading

    David Ford is not a candidate in this election

  • Brendan Heading

    Why not question and verify?

    You are calling for the opening up of the decision-making process of the public prosecution service to public commentary. This is not the practice in the UK or Ireland generally, and in this place, it won’t work.

    There are a variety of reasons for this, not least that decisions need to be made carefully and duly by legal experts and not overridden by the emotions of the lesser informed general public. A fair and balanced justice system is inherently anti-democratic – it does not and cannot bow to mob rule or the views of the majority.

    It’s funny how the “question and verify” stuff tends to be one sided. Had we been talking about a Unionist-learning QC as DPP, I suspect there would be a Sinn Féin supporter here making the exact same argument that you just did, and that you would strangely find yourself on the opposite side of the argument. Let’s dispense with the idea that any of this is anything to do with accountability. It’s to do with people interfering with the criminal justice system for political purposes. It pulls in our usual Northern Ireland confirmation bias – we quickly identify the perceived bias against our tribe, and are slow to see when it works in our tribe’s favour.

  • Nevin

    Thanks for the correction, Brendan. The Alliance candidate is Neil Kelly.

  • Nevin

    “you would strangely find yourself on the opposite side of the argument”

    Neat little piece of jaundiced caricature, Brendan. Do try to lift yourself above this myopic tribal mindset. I work with reps from all of the parties.

  • Skibo

    I propose Joe Brolly lol!

  • WiseJeffrey

    Do you REALLY Believe that ? seriously ?

    Just look at the hard cold stats of DDP prosecutions under Barra’s watch

  • WiseJeffrey

    The stats speaks for themselves, 2/3 of cases are against the Security Forces.

    And using public money to silence Jamie Bryson ? what is that all about ?

  • Old Mortality

    ‘Hundreds of members of the Provos, etc. were arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned for the crimes they committed.’
    But many of them for lesser offences such as possession of arms or explosives or just IRA membership. There are still a lot of killers out there who never darkened a court door.

  • WiseJeffrey

    You didn’t read the article did you ?

    “It’s also worth saying that ***all the top legal posts*** – chief justice, attorney general and director of public prosecutions are held by Catholics “

  • Granni Trixie

    Had no idea as to the facts of the Bryson case. But having read about it here I have read it and if I were smeared like that would like to think the police would imvestigate. I also think he had no option not just for the sake of his reputation but for th sake of th office.
    I suspect newspapers wouldn’t be allowed legally to write like that but Bryson is taking advantage of the difficulty of being convicted of Internet abuse.

  • WiseJeffrey

    You didnt read the article did you ?

    ” It’s also worth saying that all the top legal posts – chief justice, attorney general and director of public prosecutions are held by Catholics “

  • WiseJeffrey

    Here is a much better article that explains it better

    As for you dismissing the imbalance against innocent victims as whataboutery, words fail me.

  • WiseJeffrey

    The impartiality of the head of NI’s Public Prosecutions Service (PPS) has been questioned under parliamentary privilege by an MP.

    Sir Gerald Howarth made the comments during a debate on Northern Ireland.

    He claimed Barra McGrory issued a notice to news desks advising them he would take “appropriate legal action” if they published any article that “alleges a lack of impartiality”.

  • WiseJeffrey

    Would he not have been better to try and counter any notion of impartiality with some cold hard stats rather than trying to gag someone, which does make it look suspect imho.

    The DPP office keeps no stats on cases that are presented to it, and therefore there is no way to confirm or deny any possible bias.

  • Granni Trixie

    I thought that is exactly what he did, I’m sure I read a reported response from him to criticism doing just that. Unfortunately I don’t have a link.

  • William Saunderson

    “There are still a lot of killers out there who never darkened a court door.”
    Indeed there are, and they should all be held to account, whether they were Provos, Loyalists or British soldiers when they killed their victims.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Nah ! Effs and Blinds Too Much ?

  • Brendan Heading

    Do you REALLY Believe that ? seriously ?

    I am simply outlining the facts of how the DPP is required to operate. It is not a matter of belief.

    Just look at the hard cold stats of DDP prosecutions under Barra’s watch

    This is ridiculous on many levels. The DPP has no control over what cases are presented to him for prosecution. If the police get hold of a loyalist supergrass who spills the beans on dozens of unsolved murders, it doesn’t mean the DPP is singling out loyalists for special treatment; it’s just the sequencing of events.

    In order to prove bias you would have to show that this DPP had a different approach to a case with a similar evidence profile to another case that was handled differently. You cannot prove that, because you have no insight into the thinking of any of the public prosecutors, past or present.

    What this is really down to is the fact that you think soldiers should not face prosecution. You think that when evidence becomes available that the DPP should not act on it. But that isn’t how it works.

  • Brendan Heading

    The stats speaks for themselves, 2/3 of cases are against the Security Forces.

    On exactly what basis are you suggesting that prosecuting members of the security forces amounts to ignoring victims ?

    Are you saying that if a member of the security forces commits a crime, we have to wait until we catch an IRA member committing a crime in order to maintain the balance ?

    And using public money to silence Jamie Bryson ? what is that all about ?

    Bryson has been silenced ? You could have fooled me

  • Brendan Heading

    It’s pretty obvious where you are coming from on this matter Nevin. I don’t give a damn who you “work with”.

  • Brendan Heading

    but sure what do us little boys and girls from Sandy Row know

    That’s an excellent question. Exactly what qualifies the boys and girls from the Sandy Row to make determinations on who is or is not best qualified to act as a public prosecutor ?

  • Brendan Heading

    Quoting Jamie Bryson as a source is daft. Nothing that he claims can be taken in any way seriously.

    Have you ever read any of his books ?

  • Nevin

    Brendan, I’ll leave you to deal with your own prejudices but I’d appreciate it if you desisted from fake caricatures.

  • Madra Uisce


  • Madra Uisce

    The. Fact that he is one of themmuns perhaps

  • Reader

    Daragh: Another absolutely disgraceful little episode in the history of this
    place. I think victims will need to unfortunately accept that no
    soldiers will ever face due process.

    If it matters so much to you, you should probably follow the news:

  • WiseJeffrey

    “Quoting Jamie Bryson as a source is daft. Nothing that he claims can be taken in any way seriously.”

    I’m quoting THIS POST………..

    You know, the article at the top you are supposed to read before commenting , which you clearly haven’t

  • WiseJeffrey

    When ALL THE TOP POSTS were held by protestants you called it discrimination, what do you call it now ?

  • WiseJeffrey

    What is offensive about calling a spade a spade ?

    Nationalist/Catholic death squads was what they were.

    Or are you suggesting the IRA were an equal opportunities employer ?

  • WiseJeffrey

    No evidence as the DPP do not release any information on the cases referred to them.

    On a purely mathematical analysis it does seem to have an unusual correlation.

    10% of deaths were attributable to the security forces and no doubt a LARGE % of *those* were completely justifiable eg Loughgall

    I would guesstimate that 2% of all troubles related “killings” that were carried out by the security forces were possibly questionable, yet a staggering 66% of cases referred by the DPP are related to that small percentage.

    And of that small percentage, some of those killed were non-republicans, so the actual figure is even less…….

    Furthermore there is the Cahill case, to say it was highly suspicious is a gross understatement.

    Barra stated “”The only case in which I accept the PPS went wrong was the Cahill case.””

    I am not sure wrong is the correct word to use.

    If I get a chance I must run the figures on this over the weekend, but it is a shame the DPP do not keep stats on cases referred to them

  • WiseJeffrey

    Which post ?

    All top 3 jobs are held by roman catholics

    Does that inequality not concern you ?

  • WiseJeffrey

    Now it’s “what GAA club do you follow ?”

    And I have personally heard that from roman catholics in jobs of “high office”

    One guy in particular said he always dropped the GAA line at the start of a meeting so he knew “where he stood”

    Source = my own eyes and ears

    One great thing about living in a 95+ % nationalist town is everyone assumes you are a roman catholic – The stuff I hear on a weekly basis is amazing.

  • WiseJeffrey

    “In order to prove bias you would have to show that this DPP had a different approach to a case with a similar evidence profile to another case that was handled differently”

    The DPP do not keep stats of cases presented to them and there is no transparency either, so how do you achieve what you are stating ??

  • WiseJeffrey

    “Are you saying that if a member of the security forces commits a crime, we have to wait until we catch an IRA member committing a crime in order to maintain the balance ?”

    I would suggest that the security forces have better evidence than the IRA

    Did the IRA carry out ballistic checks on security forces weapons and preserve any “scenes of crime” eg loughgall etc etc

    Last time Gerry was even questioned there were IRA people on the streets telling us “how dare they arrest our leader”

    You can’t sit there and tell me there is no political backdrop to all this.

  • WiseJeffrey

    What equality thing ?

    The fact the top 3 legal positions are all held by roman catholics ?

  • WiseJeffrey

    Gerry and Martin would concur I am sure

  • WiseJeffrey

    Jamie’s post has more logic than your inane ramblings tbh

  • WiseJeffrey

    “But that’s exactly how the legal profession works – most take clients who come to them ( from all backgrounds) and act in their interests.”

    In any sane part of the world yes, in NI ……….no

    “DUBLIN solicitor has revealed how he turned his back on his middle-class Dublin lifestyle to rob banks and make bombs for the IRA at the height of the Troubles.”

    “I knew Pat Finucane reasonably well. I first met him in 1980 at a high-level IRA finance meeting in Letterkenny, Co Donegal. The meeting took place in a private room above a public house. Also present were Gerry Adams, the now-dead Tom Cahill, Pat Doherty (now the MP for West Tyrone) and several others.

    Adams and Finucane arrived together in the morning and left at lunchtime. Did Finucane introduce himself as a member of the IRA? No. Did anyone present describe him as such? No. It was, however, exclusively an IRA meeting and quite clearly, without doubt, understood to be so by all present. That is the evidence of my own eyes and ears and I stand by it today as I did yesterday and as I will tomorrow.”

  • WiseJeffrey

    In the end he clearly backed down after questioning from Kate Hoey

    Surely if he thought he had a genuine case he would have pursued it ?

  • WiseJeffrey

    It should not be ONE person, it should be a panel of at least 3 to make the ultimate decision of whether or not to advance a case ?

  • Granni Trixie

    I have a different take.
    Brysons pieces where he throws mud at DPP making assumptions because of family connections etcetc are a disgrace and if not illegal ought to be.

  • John Collins

    So what. The leading party in NI is overwhelmingly Protestant and they agreed to those appointments.

  • John Collins

    After the past fifty years there must be very few Legal eagles of note who have not represented terrorists from one or the other or indeed both sides of the fence. Maybe JB is the right man after all.

  • grumpy oul man

    The DUP not only formed terror groups ( Ulster Resistance, third Force) they also have whenever suited forged Allainces with very active terror groups ,the UVF,UDA,LVF while these groups where engaged in secterian murder campaigns.
    What’s so amusing about this is that while sharing platforms and working closely with loyalist terrorists they would with self righteous​ smugness comdem anyone who talked to SF because the IRA was a terrorist group.
    This has been a constant with the DUP from it’s formation
    UWC, AIA, Drumcree, Clontribet, Twaddle, are a few examples.
    Of course they took care that few of them went to jail, that award was kept for the young loyalist cannon fodder.
    After all prison doesn’t have the same pay and benefits as Westminster or Stormount.

  • WiseJeffrey

    People have said he handles the OTR letters, is there any documented proof of that ?

    *IF* there is, then surely that is a conflict of interest ?

  • Granni Trixie

    Surely it is the Legacy Investigstions Branch of the PSNI who investigate if any on the OTRs are wanted for any crime – in which case I presume cases are sent to DPP. If this is according to the rules and process how can that be wrong? mr McG would inkynbe doing his job. Sounds like no matter what he does he will never please you.
    He had the guts to take responsibility for this challenging job,give him some credit.