Pillar of North's legal establishment during turbulent period
SIR ALASDAIR FRASER:SIR ALASDAIR Fraser, who was centrally involved in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland during some of the most turbulent periods of the Troubles and who ensured the smooth creation of the North’s Public Prosecution Service, has died aged 65.
Sir Alasdair, who read law at Trinity College Dublin with Mary Robinson, Shane Ross and barrister Joe Revington, died after a long struggle with cancer.
Appointed in 1989, he was DPP as Northern Ireland made the transition from conflict to peace, at a time when the republican and loyalist ceasefires were called and when the Belfast Agreement was cemented on Good Friday 1998.
He was called to the Northern Ireland Bar in 1970, then practised for three years before joining the newly established Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions. He retired as DPP in September 2010 after 21 years in the post; for much of that time living his life under huge security constraints, always conscious that he was an assassination target.
At his funeral his great friend Kevin McGinty said that it was Sir Alasdair’s responsibility to deal with some of the most serious and difficult cases arising from the Troubles: the murder of Pat Finucane, the first and subsequent Stevens inquiries, the prosecution of Brian Nelson and the reports of John Stalker and later Colin Sampson into allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy – and also the use of informant’s evidence.
“As director it fell to Alasdair to protect the prosecution process from all external pressures, whether blatant or subtle, which can arise in a divided society,” said McGinty. “If I were to try and identify Alasdair’s greatest achievement as director, that which contributed more to the rule of law in Northern Ireland than anything else he did, it was the honesty, the propriety, and absolute integrity he brought to every decision he took. He was, above all else, fair. And he insisted on those same standards from all who worked for him. The entire community of Northern Ireland owes him a debt that many will never realise.”
Eamonn Barnes, who was DPP in the Republic from 1975 to 1999, spoke of the strong professional and personal relationship he enjoyed with Sir Alasdair, and of how despite the pressures and stresses of maintaining his and his family’s security, he carried out his duties with absolute commitment and professionalism.
“He was the soul of integrity, extremely courageous and as straight as it was possible to be. He was keen, to the point where he would have resigned if necessary, to protect the independence of the prosecutorial service in the North of Ireland,” he said.
“He was also a man who was very clubbable and who had a devilish sense of humour,” added Barnes.
One of Sir Alasdair’s biggest tasks was in overseeing the creation of the North’s Public Prosecution Service in June 2005 when that service assumed responsibility for criminal prosecutions in Northern Ireland. The office, which is led by his DPP successor Barra McGrory, prosecutes some 60,000 cases annually and has a staff of 590, with 175 of them lawyers. He was happy and relieved the transition worked so well. With some pride he described the PPS as the “largest legal practice” on the island of Ireland.
Shortly after his appointment in 1989 Sir Alasdair was responsible, as he said, “to a substantial part in securing the appointment of John Stevens” to examine allegations of RUC and British army collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.
Senior people involved in the North’s criminal justice system had generally been reluctant to engage with the media, but Sir Alasdair broke with that tradition by endeavouring – sometimes against his natural disposition – to open up to the press, which included granting a major interview to this newspaper in 2009.
He was proud of the PPS and its staff and saw the organisation as one that was moving forward as Northern Ireland was moving forward.
The current DPP and his deputy Pamela Hutchinson said Sir Alasdair led his office with courage and integrity through often difficult and challenging circumstances. “His legacy will be his significant contribution to the rule of law and building the foundations of a first-class prosecution service for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland,” they added.
Sir Alasdair was born in Scotland in 1946, moving with his family to Northern Ireland four years later. He was chairman of the CIYMS rugby club in Belfast and joked about suffering a loyalty dilemma each year when Ireland played Scotland in the Six Nations, resolving it by supporting whichever team was victorious.
He is survived by his wife Margaret and children, Andrew, Katy and Jamie.
Sir Alasdair Fraser: Born September 29th, 1946; died June 16th, 2012.