Tony Blair said relatives of policemen who had been murdered by the IRA would feel "anger and anguish" over a Bill in the Commons to allow those on the run to return to Ulster.
But the Prime Minister made it clear that in spite of being uncomfortable with the measure, he believes the legal measure is the price worth paying for securing peace.
He said: "I really believe it's best to get this issue out of the way so we can get on with building an executive and an assembly that are back up and running again. If it hangs over this process much longer, it won't do any of us any good."
Mr Blair insisted the fugitives were not being given amnesty. Under the Bill, they will have to go through a brief judicial process and will be released with a criminal record, on licence.
Tory MPs said they would vote against the Bill in the Commons today. Former minister Andrew Mackay said: "It is an outrage to give these people amnesty."