Eilis O'Hanlon: The need for a clear-headed assessment of John Hume's legacy is particularly important, considering that much of the criticism of his secret talks with Gerry Adams came from within his own party - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
Hercule Poirot said the only way to find out the truth about someone who has died is to ask someone who still thinks that they're alive. That's certainly the case in public life. Once a senior politician's death is announced, the old adage that one should not speak ill of the dead kicks into play. More balanced assessments may come later, but that's not always the case either. The fear of causing offence takes over.
That's certainly been true in the case of John Hume. Friends and foes alike recognised the SDLP leader as a man who abhorred violence and believed down to every cell of his DNA in democracy and dialogue. Even those who didn't share his desire for a united Ireland - or an "agreed Ireland", as he preferred to call it with his genius for an arresting phrase - hailed him as a man of peace.
The accolades were richly deserved. John Hume was a complicated and often difficult man to deal with, but Northern Ireland would have been a far better place if more people had followed him instead of Gerry Adams. He always put the unity of people before that of territory.
That still does not mean the decisions he took over decades in the frontline of politics cannot be questioned, even if that same Gerry Adams, whose republican movement once debated whether they should kill John Hume, now berates sections of the media for having had the audacity back in the day to question the two men's joint Hume/Adams strategy.
The need for a clear-headed assessment of John Hume's legacy is particularly important, considering that much of the strongest concern at the time came from within the SDLP.
Plenty of Hume's colleagues were alarmed at what Hume was doing and what bringing in the Provos from the cold would mean for the constitutional nationalist tradition which the party had kept alive during the darkest days of the Troubles.
Seamus Mallon's memoir came far too late, appearing just months before the former SDLP deputy leader's death in January of this year, but A Shared Home Place remains a powerful testimony to those fears.
It wasn't just that Hume was talking to the political wing of a terrorist organisation that had murdered and injured thousands of people in Northern Ireland, but that he steadfastly refused to involve other members of his party, or other politicians for that matter, in those discussions, so they literally had no idea what Hume and Adams were discussing beyond what they saw, or read, in the media.
Mallon's greatest fear was that the Provos were "using" John Hume to gain retrospective legitimacy for their campaign and to supplant the SDLP as the voice of nationalism in Northern Ireland.
John Hume "emphatically believed", according to Mallon, that the SDLP would be the beneficiaries of the peace process and would be rewarded for having brought an end to the bloodshed.
Mallon was equally certain that it was the SDLP and Ulster Unionists who would suffer. Those fears turned out to be justified, but Hume always made it clear that he wouldn't take their concerns on board, pointedly telling his deputy: "I don't give two balls of roasted snow for what you think."
What really alarmed many people in the SDLP, including Eddie McGrady, then the MP for South Down, was that Hume and Adams had basically agreed everything between them before actual peace talks could begin, rendering any negotiation by elected representatives irrelevant. Their role was simply to rubberstamp whatever Adams had agreed was acceptable to the IRA.
That came to pass, as republicans repeatedly threatened to break the ceasefire if what was on the table differed from what they'd already agreed with Hume.
"Democracy in the north," as Mallon put it, "was being bypassed" and he considered it outrageous that Sinn Fein, having been given a literal get-out-of-jail-free card, was further allowed into the devolved government in 1999 while still holding on to a private army.
Increasingly in the years after, the British, Irish and American governments came to see their job as to keep the IRA happy and the IRA, in turn, led them "a merry dance", the result of which "destroyed middle unionism" which couldn't justify to those in their community who'd suffered most at the hands of the Provos why republicans were being allowed to have things all their own way.
All of this is now retrospectively justified, because it led eventually to an IRA cessation of hostilities; but it's ahistorical nonsense to deny that there might have been another, possibly better, way.
Mallon's own view is that the governments should have more vigorously backed democratic parties of the centre and "called (the IRA's) bluff and demanded that they give up their arms by a certain date on pain of not being allowed into the new Northern Ireland Executive".
There's no way of knowing if that would have led to a better outcome. History cannot be re-run to find out. What is beyond doubt is that, once the republican movement was given special favours, the governments continued to offer more of the same to keep them sweet.
Seamus Mallon didn't throw his toys out of the pram. As Deputy First Minister of the first power-sharing Assembly, he considered it his duty to try and make it work.
John Hume had asked him to take on that role, instead of himself, citing ill-health, but in fact the Derryman wasn't cut out for the day-to-day mundaneness of office.
"He was the vision man", as Mallon said. It was left to others to put his vision into practice. It was no easy task.
Mallon felt that the roots of the new politics were already poisoned by pandering to republican demands and the years since have hardly proven him wrong.
He conceded that this may have been "the price we had to pay for peace", but it came at a cost of allowing the IRA to rewrite history: "Unfortunately, we also legitimised them."
That's what makes John Hume's legacy mixed. The Provos knew that the game was up from the late-1980s. They had nowhere else to go but into politics. John Hume helped them get the best possible deal, with the prospect of an endless succession of goodies ever after.
Mallon came, in time, to accept that the republican movement had, indeed, been ready to lay down its weapons, but the fears of many in the SDLP and the broader community that the Provos were given far too much in return for doing what they should have done anyway were hardly unreasonable, or unfounded.