Cabinet Officer Minister David Lidington has declined to rule out a statute of limitations for veterans who served in Northern Ireland.
Mr Lidington said ministers would have to think “very carefully” about the amnesty issue, following the widespread rejection of the idea in a Government public consultation on mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.
Asked by PA if the outcome would now rule out a statute of limitations in the region, Mr Lidington said: “I think it would be wrong for me to speculate when we have just seen today the publication of the actual responses.
“Clearly ministers are going to have to think very carefully about this sensitive issue, but I think everybody is agreed that we need a system for the future that is better than the one we have had up to now, at giving both a sense of closure to victims and survivors and also is seen by everybody as fair and just.”
Mr Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister, indicated the scale of the response to the legacy consultation came as a surprise to the Government.
“More than 17,000 individuals and organisations responded, I think more than any of us expected,” he said.
“And I think it is right that the Government should take its time to think carefully about that very large number of responses and the different views expressed there, and then I expect it will be for the new prime minister and new government to decide on the way forward.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the consultation responses demonstrated “wide and varied” opinions on how to deal with the past.
She highlighted that the issues related to the definition of a victim was a common thread running through the consultation.
The exercise reported “mixed views” from respondents on the controversial matter.
That debate has long been the subject of contention, with strong feelings about whether a paramilitary who was injured or killed while committing an act of violence should be considered a victim, and be able to avail themselves of services or financial support.
The consultation summary said views expressed were “split”.
Mrs Foster said: “It is immoral that the bombmaker is defined as a victim in the same way as the person who lost limbs in the bomb.
“A new United Kingdom definition of a victim would have a transformative impact on how we deal with the past.
“Another key concern for the DUP is that justice must always remain open to victims of terrorism.
“Justice must also be seen to be done. No-one who has done wrong should be able to stop looking over their shoulder.
“Whilst the opinions have now been garnered, the challenge is finding a way forward which ensures that history is not rewritten and those who took innocent life are held accountable, rather than the reputation of those who stood against terrorism being inaccurately tarnished.”
Sinn Fein said the Government must stop “stalling” on implementing the mechanisms.
Linda Dillon MLA said: “What is required now is that the British Government urgently sets out a time frame to bring forward legislation for the legacy structures.
“Some families have been waiting almost 50 years on truth and justice. There can be no more stalling or protracted and unnecessary delays.
“The opportunity to deal with the past is now. The time to engage with the past is now.
“Any further delays or stalling from the British Government will only serve to undermine public confidence in the consultation, undermine the policy intent of the Stormont House Agreement and more worryingly, further disappoint and alienate victims.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said the legacy arrangements must be “balanced, fair, equitable and proportionate”.
He warned the process could not be about those who “shout the loudest get their way”.
“We are not surprised that there is a lot of agreement that the present system for dealing with the past isn’t working, but that does not mean we should accept a replacement solution that is so structurally flawed,” he said.
“In order to change the structural flaws, there must be a fundamental change to the SHA legacy proposals, which never enjoyed the support of the Ulster Unionist Party.”
Alliance party deputy leader Stephen Farry said the publication of the consultation should be a springboard towards final agreement on the Stormont House mechanisms.
On the majority rejection of amnesty, Mr Farry added: “It is rightly recognised such an approach would undermine the contribution of all of those who served and protected the community in line with the rule of law.
“This stands in sharp contrast to the impression given in Westminster, which is in danger of badly skewing the debate and undermining the process.
“This summary of the consultation should be used to end those destructive moves.”