BILL Deedes, former editor of the Daily Telegraph and the model (though he denied it) for William Boot in Evelyn Waugh's hilarious lampoon on journalism 'Scoop', died not long ago. He was 94-years-old and had continued to work until a few weeks before his death.
I knew him well, both as a Conservative MP and when he edited the Telegraph. He took an interest in Northern Ireland and waxed lyrical about the Provisional IRA ceasefire negotiated by Willie Whitelaw in 1972. He viewed one of the IRA leaders, David O'Connell, as "the new Michael Collins".
That was the way much of the British establishment thought. Never mind Brian Faulkner, John Hume, Jack Lynch, Liam Cosgrave, Britannia would deal with them, but she would also deal with those she thought could deliver.
And some things never change. You have only to look at the riveting memoirs published by Tony Blair's chief of staff Jonathan Powell. And if you do not wish to plough through the book, you can get the message from his television interviews, to say nothing of his private conversations.
The most pointed was with Seamus Mallon, the man who called the Good Friday Agreement "Sunningdale for slow learners".
Remember the Sunningdale Agreement of December 1973? It was the high watermark for the moderates. The Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP and Alliance agreed to set up a Council of Ireland, the prerequisite for the formation of a power-sharing Northern executive on January 1, 1974.
The ministers in the executive worked together harmoniously, but they were overthrown in less than five months by the Ulster Workers' Council (UWC) strike, which brought public services to a standstill.
The UWC were a front for loyalist paramilitaries.
Their opposition to power-sharing was inflamed by the rhetoric of Ian Paisley. It was not the first, and would not be the last, occasion on which Paisley would adopt a destructive role.
After a quarter of a century, and the expenditure of much blood and treasure, we came back to Square One.
Or Square One Plus or Square One Minus, depending on your viewpoint.
During that quarter-century, Sinn Fein-IRA had moved from mere terrorism to the "Armalite and ballot paper" strategy and from there to the primacy of the ballot paper; and to a point at which they were ready to overtake the SDLP as the top nationalist party in Northern Ireland.
This was not a conversion. It was dictated by ruthless, cynical intelligence. And the ruthlessness and cynicism continued to prevail after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
Sinn Fein-IRA had squeezed out every drop of juice in the way of concessions. Now they kept on squeezing. They equivocated and procrastinated on decommissioning and supporting the police. At the same time they claimed -- they still claim -- the Good Friday Agreement eases the path to a united Ireland. But nobody has done more than they to make Irish unity impossible.
The agreement was welcomed, and rightly welcomed, by sincere, intelligent and well-informed people at home and everywhere. Their relief and enthusiasm sometimes led them to gloss over the less palatable aspects. Not Mallon. Not Powell.
Mallon said to Powell: "You talk to them because they have guns." Powell replied: "Yes. And your point?"
Again and again over those weary decades we have heard it said that you can't bomb your way into a united Ireland. Not many dare to say that you can bomb your way into a Northern government. For that, you need the blessing of Whitehall -- and, of course, a partner.
It took almost another decade for Sinn Fein to complete the journey and find the perfect partner. First, they overtook the SDLP in the nationalist ballot boxes.
At the same time, Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party overtook the Ulster Unionist Party and threw David Trimble into the same dustbin as his predecessors all the way back to Terence O'Neill.Paisley had always stayed away, if only inches away, from association with guns. But he had wrought vast destruction nonetheless. He had undermined every attempted settlement. And not out of conviction. He had always wanted a settlement, so long as he stood at the head of it.
Splendid! Splendid! as Whitelaw used to say about more agreeable matters. Splendid, at any rate, from the viewpoint of British Realpolitik. You had to bring the extremists on board. With both sets of extremists on board, and forget about the people in the middle who don't have any guns, what could go wrong?
But something did go wrong. Paisley, once dominant because he was more intransigent than anyone else, was not extreme enough for his party.
He committed what in DUP eyes is an unforgivable sin. He not only worked with his former enemies, he made friends with them.
Political leaders are overthrown for all sorts of reasons, usually because they cannot win elections or someone wants their job. Paisley may not be the only one overthrown for laughing, because there is nothing new under the sun. But I can think of no other example.
And here's an infinitely sad thought. Paisley was right to beam and guffaw as he performed his "Chuckle Brothers" act with Martin McGuinness. That -- or what it signifies -- is the only way the settlement can work.
In 1974, unionists and nationalists went into office sharing the belief that they were all fundamentally well-intentioned and trustworthy people.
The parties in the new Stormont share no such belief.
Powell is a very clever man, and he makes a strong argument for bringing in the extremists.
But no British government can turn Northern extremists into moderates. They have to do that for themselves.