There is much greater support in Northern Ireland for ending Troubles-related prosecutions than the public outcry that greeted the controversial proposal suggests, a former chairman of the Policing Board has insisted.
Sir Desmond Rea said he backed the contentious call by Attorney General John Larkin QC to end investigations and inquiries into crimes committed during the 30-year-conflict.
And a Catholic bishop has also said the proposal is worth considering. Donal McKeown, the Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor, said Mr Larkin had asked "a useful question".
"I think what John Larkin has done for us is actually raised the question – how can we get the best possible deal in the very imperfect circumstances that we have, where many people will never tell the truth about the past, because of embarrassment, because of their own inability to cope with what they've done themselves," he said.
Mr Larkin's assertion last month that a line should be drawn under offences perpetrated before the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was denounced by many victims of paramilitary and State violence, while the political administrations in Belfast, London and Dublin all distanced themselves from any suggestion that an amnesty could be introduced.
But Sir Desmond, who, along with former director of the Northern Ireland Prison Service Sir Robin Masefield, has outlined proposals on dealing with the past to the Haass talks process, said he felt there was a large swathe of public opinion that supported Mr Larkin's argument for an amnesty.
"People have given John Larkin a tough time in the last week to 10 days, but he has faced up to the issue and I commend him fully for that," he said.
The chairman of the first Policing Board in 2001 said he had advocated the idea of an amnesty a number of years ago.
He claimed that pursuing historic crimes had the potential to destabilise the peace process.
"I believe there is more support in society for the argument that John Larkin is articulating and that Desmond Rea is articulating," he said.
"The argument that I have put, I meet few people who disagree with me.
"The victims do, and their organisations disagree, but I find it amazing (how many agree)."