Support for end prosecutions call
There is much greater support in Northern Ireland for ending Troubles-related prosecutions than the public outcry that greeted the controversial proposal suggested, 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.
Mr Larkin's assertion last month that a line should be drawn under offences perpetrated before the signing of the 1998 Good Friday peace 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.
"People have given John Larkin a tough time in the last week to ten 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 de-stabilise 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.
He added: "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)."
Sir Desmond, who chaired the board for more than seven years, said he had "strong sympathy" for the plight of victims.
"Not simply in terms of the bereaved but also in terms of those who are injured and who are suffering their injuries to this day," he said.
"So let there be no doubt of my sympathy for them."
He added: "I am not to about to criticise anybody in terms of their views in respect of this, they have every right to articulate their views, but equally so do I."
Sir Desmond, assisted by Sir Robin, is currently writing a book on policing in Northern Ireland with a particular focus on the Policing Board.
He decided a chapter on dealing with the past would make a suitable submission to Dr Richard Haass - the former US diplomat tasked with finding resolution to legacy issues, as well as long-standing disputes over flags and parades.
Professor Rea, who also urged Dr Haass to consider an annual day of reflection for victims of the Troubles, said it was vital that politicians fully committed to dealing with the past.
Something, he said, they had failed to do in his time on the Policing Board.
"If they don't buy in, it will go nowhere," he said. "We have got to deal with the issue of the past."
Sir Desmond said whatever recommendations emerged from the Haass negotiations should be ratified by the public in some form of referendum.