The prospect of successful prosecutions in cases related to Northern Ireland’s Troubles is going to be “very slim”, the Director of Public Prosecutions has warned.
Barra McGrory said he was very concerned by current political thought that legacy cases should be dealt with in a prosecutorial context.
He also warned that it will be very difficult for the region’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to maintain high public confidence levels if legacy continues to be deal with through prosecutions.
Mr McGrory was speaking after the PPS announced the findings of a new survey which claims that public confidence in the organisation is at its highest level in a decade.
The Northern Ireland Omnibus Survey published on Thursday found that more than three-quarters (76%) of the public are confident that the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) “provides a fair and impartial prosecution service”.
The survey, Perceptions Of The Public Prosecution Service, also shows that there has been a rise in confidence among both the Catholic and Protestant communities.
“I have been saying for some time it is going to be difficult (to maintain confidence levels) because, in the strict context of legacy, the prospect of bringing successful prosecutions in a lot of cases is going to be slim.
“I just hope the good work we have done in terms of increasing confidence levels isn’t undone by the difficulties we are going to face with legacy.
“But that appears to be the political judgement as to how legacy should be dealt with - in a prosecutorial context. I have always said that is a serious concern,” said Mr McGrory.
He warned: “I worry that in an attempt to do the criminal process of the Troubles in their entirety within a limited space of time, with limited resource, 25 years on from the conclusion of that period of conflict, would be exceptionally difficult.”
However, Mr McGrory added that the PPS “will have to deal with that if that is the ultimate scheme, which it appears to be at the moment.”
He also revealed that the PPS has not been consulted by Stormont’s political parties about the difficulties of the task of dealing with legacy solely through the prosecutorial process.
Despite recent criticism from members of the Conservative Party, Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party of the PPS over decisions to prosecute retired soldiers for legacy-related shootings, the survey found that confidence in the organisation within the Protestant community was at its highest ever level.
“The negativity emanated from a certain section of one political party in Westminster and then was echoed by a certain section of one political party here, or maybe two.
“I found the (confidence) figures very encouraging. They would tend to suggest the expressed negativity was misplaced,” Mr McGrory said.
He added that the aim of the PPS “is to provide the people of this jurisdiction with an independent, fair and effective prosecution service.”
“Over the last number of years we have seen a steady rise in the levels of confidence in the PPS and this is a credit to the professionalism and dedication of all of our staff who work tirelessly in the interests of justice,” he said.