PSNI cannot cope with the demands of investigating the past, warns Chief Constable George Hamilton
The Chief Constable has said the PSNI cannot cope with the demands being made of it to investigate the past while having to police the present.
Speaking at the British-Irish Association conference in Oxford, George Hamilton called for "challenging conversations" on the past and specifically referenced a controversial suggestion made by the Attorney General last year.
In November, Attorney General John Larkin sparked anger from victims when he called for an end to investigations, inquests or inquiries into Troubles killings before 1998.
In his speech, entitled 'Dealing with the future by dealing with the past', Mr Hamilton said achieving "change lies well beyond the remit of policing, although we will play our part".
He added: "It requires all of us to be selfless; to go beyond our comfort zones; and have challenging conversations, such as the one initiated by the Attorney General almost a year ago."
The police officer also echoed Mr Larkin's comments about the chance of prosecutions in historic murders, saying "judicial closure is increasingly unlikely in the majority of cases".
"The very cold reality is that the older a case, the harder it is to prosecute," he said.
He said that in the absence of political consensus on how to deal with Northern Ireland's troubled past, the British and Irish Governments "and indeed other interested and influential observers of our peace process" should step in.
That appears to be a reference to the interest that the US has shown in Northern Ireland recently, after former US senator Gary Hart was briefed by the Stormont parties recently.
Mr Hamilton also bluntly stated that a lack of funding was also hindering probes into the past, as the priority must be policing the present. "Money will drive the change whether we want it or not," he said.
"If I put resources into one area of policing; I must take it from another.
"As Chief Constable, my immediate obligations must be to keeping people safe today.
"So, while we will continue to meet our legal obligations, there will now be change in how PSNI responds to the demands of the past and the pace at which we can service the demand."
Victims campaigner Ann Travers said she agreed with the Chief Constable that challenging conversations need to take place but added "we can never have an amnesty".
"You can't ever say murder is right," she said.
"Thirty years ago my sister Mary was murdered and 30 years on you can't say it wasn't murder.
"During the Troubles we were being terrified and that is wrong. What happened tore families apart.
"Challenging conversations have to be had but acknowledgement has to be given by those who were terrified.
"I have always had a huge amount of respect for George Hamilton.
"It's good to have debate but we have to be quite moralistic as well and not give in to political pandering. Victims' families have rights."
Mark Thompson, the director of Relatives for Justice victims group welcomed the Chief Constable's speech, describing his comments on the past as "very important".
"The speech recognises fundamentally that this responsibility also rests with both governments and the international community as well as local parties and we welcome that," he said.
"Indeed we would be far further along the road if the same type of leadership in terms of addressing this issue were to be shown by Theresa Villiers, her government and other political leaders."
"I fully accept that reaching agreement on such a challenging issue is not easy. But, to continue to ignore, hesitate or procrastinate on the past will have unpredictable and far reaching consequences.
"If our own politicians cannot reach consensus on the issue, then it would seem appropriate and necessary to seek and accept much more "hands on" support from the British and Irish Governments; and indeed other interested and influential observers of our peace process."
Chief Constable George Hamilton