Northern Ireland’s top prosecutor has clashed with politicians over claims public confidence in his organisation is at an all time low.
Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory faced a barrage of criticism over alleged failings in a number of high profile cases when he appeared before Stormont’s justice committee.
The senior lawyer, who was forced to defend his leadership and his organisation, slammed the line of questioning taken by some MLAs.
An irate Mr McGrory said: “I am the director of Public Prosecutions.
“I have come here to assist this committee, not to sit here and to have to listen to speeches which can be made on the floor of the House of the Assembly or to the gentlemen and gentlewomen of the press.”
During the two hour evidence session, Mr McGrory rejected as “sweeping and inaccurate” claims that the public had lost confidence in the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) over the past three-and-a-half years.
Some of the most scathing criticism came from Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots who said the PPS was providing the worst service in decades.
He said: “I think that Mr McGrory would do well to reflect on the quality of service that is being provided and that many of us as public representatives are articulating the views of the people we represent.
“There is a public dissatisfaction with how things are being conducted and in some instances people are scratching their head and asking the question ‘What has to be done to actually get a successful prosecution against certain members of our community?’”
Although he accepted full responsibility for failings in the Mairia Cahill sex abuse case, the director rejected repeated criticism of the decision not to prosecute Gerry Adams for allegedly withholding information about his paedophile brother Liam Adams.
A report by Northern Ireland’s Attorney General published this week agreed with the PPS that it was not in the public interest to prosecute the Sinn Fein president.
Mr McGrory said: “The only case in which I accept the PPS went wrong was the Cahill case.”
Last month, Mr McGrory publicly apologised after a damning review by Sir Kier Starmer found major mistakes had been made.
He added: “I accept fully the findings of Sir Kier Starmer and I accept that changes have to be made.
“Changes were made and further changes are about to be made.”
In light of Sir Kier’s findings, counsel working on the Cahill case are to appear before a professional conduct committee next week, it was revealed.
Mr McGrory added: “I believe, as Director of Public Prosecutions, that ironically the confidence in the administration of justice ought to be enhanced as a result of these reports rather than damaged because the public can feel confident that when issues arise they are addressed.”
Meanwhile, the committee also heard that Mr McGrory, a former defence lawyer whose clients included Gerry Adams, has recused himself from six cases because of a potential conflict of interest.
Concerns from committee chairman Alastair Ross about a “public perception issue” were dismissed.
Mr McGrory said: “I think that politicians have a responsibility not to play politics with some of these issues.
“In the legal context I don’t think this is that big an issue yet politicians make it an issue then some of the public may think there is something behind it.
“I sometimes wonder about some of the motives of some of the people, certainly in the press, who might comment on this as an issue.
“Really, the fact is because I have been so transparent and open about everything I have openly recused myself from any case in which there is a hint of a conflict.
“The public should have confidence in the way in which I go about my business as director.”