Prosecuting people for crimes committed during the Troubles will achieve nothing but leading victims down a false path, former Secretary of State Peter Hain has said.
In remarks which will re-open the debate on dealing with the past, Mr Hain said pursuing decades-old crimes was "no answer", and that another type of redress and justice is needed.
The Labour MP, who served here between 2005 and 2007, cited the "fiasco" over the arrest of Gerry Adams, whom he described as an indispensable figure in the peace process, as an example of problems with the current impasse on the past.
The comments, in an article to be published in Progress magazine tomorrow, are likely to infuriate unionists, who are strongly opposed to any form of immunity for terrorist crimes.
More than 3,500 people were killed during three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland.
However, in many cases, no-one was ever brought to justice.
Last year Attorney General John Larkin called for an end to prosecutions for all Troubles-related killings.
Mr Larkin said there should be no further police investigations, inquests or inquiries into any relevant killings that took place before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Mr Hain supports that view, although he is clear that he does not agree with an amnesty. In his article, Mr Hain said the impasse over the past was dragging Northern Ireland backwards, and that greater political will is needed to deal with issues in a compassionate, humane and inclusive way.
"In truth, it is no answer to pursue prosecutions for Troubles-related crimes, especially when, in 90% of these cases going back 40 years or more, the evidence cannot be retrieved," he writes. "That is simply leading victims down a false path when they need redress and justice in another way, as suggested by Eames-Bradley and Haass, joined, intriguingly, last year by Northern Ireland's attorney general John Larkin.
"The recent detention fiasco around Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams – whatever his IRA past, an indispensable figure in the peace process – illustrated the problems of the current vacuum."
Mr Hain also repeated calls for British soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday killings not to be prosecuted.
Fourteen civilians died after soldiers opened fire at a civil rights march in Londonderry in 1972. The PSNI launched a murder investigation after the Saville Inquiry's 2010 report was heavily critical of the Army.
"If they are put on trial when unsolved paramilitary crimes cannot be prosecuted, what sort of even-handed justice is that?" Mr Hain writes.
He said a greater courage was needed to tackle the past.
"Northern Ireland's politicians need to have the courage to agree a new approach and move on from the past of horror and evil, or their society will keep getting dragged dangerously back to it," he added.