Unionists hope for fresh start with new appointee as DPP

Former soldier Dennis Hutchings at Armagh courthouse. His case has been a source of grievance for many unionists

Former soldier Dennis Hutchings at Armagh courthouse. His case has been a source of grievance for many unionists

A senior DUP figure has said that while it is right to “pay tribute” to Barra McGrory as he prepares to leave the office of DPP, his departure will be “helpful” in dealing with the legacy of the past.

Jeffrey Donaldson said that he now hopes for “more balance” in how Troubles-era cases are pursued by the authorities, while the UUP’s Danny Kinahan said he hopes “confidence” can now be restored in his office.

Mr McGrory’s announcement on Wednesday came only a week after an interview with him was broadcast on BBC2, in which he had said he was happy to remain in post “at the moment” – READ MORE HERE.

Mr Donaldson, erstwhile Lagan Valley MP who was the DUP’s Westminster defence spokesman until Parliament was dissolved this month, told the News Letter: “I think it’s appropriate at this point that we pay tribute to someone who has held senior public office in a very difficult and challenging role.

“Nevertheless, we continue to have concerns about the role of the PPS in relation to legacy cases, and we believe that there has been too much focus on what the state did and too much focus on the Army and police when it comes to prosecuting legacy cases.

“I think many people want to know when we’re going to get more balance in terms of the judicial system and when the thousands of unsolved murders committed by paramilitary terrorist organisations are going to be subjected to the same level of scrutiny that has been the case with the state.

“I hope that whoever is appointed as the new DPP will ensure that public confidence is restored in this process, and that we get a more balanced process in terms of dealing with legacy cases.”

The director had “made this decision for his own reasons, but it’s helpful to moving the legacy process forward”, he said.

Mr Kinahan, who had been the UUP MP for South Antrim before the current general election campaign got under way, said many people had regarded some of the Public Prosecution Service’s decision-making with “dismay”.

He had recently called for his resignation.

He said: “I spoke out after prosecutors reinstated attempted murder charges against Mr Hutchings for a 1974 Troubles killing, which I felt was extremely unfair given that in March a judge had said there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the charge against him.

“Indeed, Mr Hutchings had been investigated twice and been told twice that he had no case to answer. The decision to over-rule an experienced district judge was met with disbelief and anger and was the final straw for many.

“I said at the time that Barra McGrory’s reign as director of public Prosecutions had run its course and for the sake of public confidence, he should pack his bags and get out of the public prosecutor’s office.

“I therefore welcome the fact that he has now chosen the course of action he has, and sincerely hope that the lack of confidence which many people have in the office, can be restored as we move forward.”