Some critics of John Hume have been saying in the past week that he betrayed his own sectarianism by turning his back on unionists to make a deal with the IRA. This is nonsense.
It presupposes that an opportunity existed in the 1980s for the SDLP to go into government with the Ulster Unionists and build a middle ground. That was the British plan, following the collapse in 1974 of the power-sharing Sunningdale Agreement.
My understanding of Hume is that his sole project was to revive Sunningdale. It had achieved the agreement of much of unionism, most nationalists and the two governments. It had been brought down by street protests.
When Hume was using his frustratingly non-specific language about how you can't eat a flag and how we should combine our talents and how division is between people not territory, he was evading the specifics of what he meant, which might have been stated more baldly as, "We're going back to Sunningdale, or we're going nowhere".
Sunningdale had been destroyed by loyalist protests, but also by the continuing IRA campaign. Had the IRA accepted it, much of the loyalist wrath might have subsided.
I might be wrong: the opposite might have happened. The IRA accepting the compromise of power-sharing might have alarmed unionists further.
Whatever, at the time tensions were too high, the paramilitaries were too strong. It didn't work. Perhaps it wasn't even properly tried, since the government of Harold Wilson wasn't prepared to go far enough in defending it.
But a day would come when the paramilitaries were weakened by infiltration and loss of popular support and, when that happened, the Sunningdale Agreement could be put back on the table, lightly garnished to look like something else and this time it would hold.
Hume had been a key thinker behind the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement and he dug in to defend it through the decades of despair.
There has been a lot of talk about what a visionary Hume was. If that is true, then he had that vision in the early 1970s and held fast to it.
And he refused alternatives. There was the James Prior assembly and the idea of rolling devolution. The parties would come together and, in as much as they could, work constructively. And they would be given more work to do.
Hume's refusal to enter that assembly persuaded some unionists that he was only really interested in a united Ireland and that he was seeking to achieve it with a pan-nationalist front.
But it was Hume who had taken a united Ireland off the table - and unionists didn't know that.
In March 1972, Edward Heath prorogued the Stormont parliament. Initially, he had just wanted Westminster to take responsibility for security, but the Northern Ireland Prime Minister (or "premier", as he was often called), Brian Faulkner, refused to govern without security powers and Britain took the whole package.
At that point, the Irish Government chose to press Britain to make a united Ireland the goal of its policy.
They were serious. Others said that it was a nonsensical idea for the Republic to seek unity, because of cost, but it is plain from the advisory papers from the Department of Foreign Affairs that that is what they were pushing for, hoping that membership of the Common Market would take care of the economic difficulties.
What this meant was that there was a potentially broad demand for a united Ireland that would have been difficult to resist.
The Republic wanted it. The IRA wanted it. The next and former prime minister, Harold Wilson, wanted it. The Foreign and Commonwealth secretary, Alec Douglas Home, wanted it. And Irish America wanted it.
Patrick Hillery, the Irish foreign minister, met with the new Secretary of State, William Whitelaw, and virtually harangued him into consenting to the Taoiseach Jack Lynch making a speech to say that the British would now deliver a united Ireland; that that was their goal.
And Whitelaw refused, primarily concerned to avoid civil war. He told Hillery that William Craig's Vanguard movement was armed and that he could not risk provoking it.
And that reasoning suggests that even Whitelaw had not thought through a principled, or constitutional, reason why Britain could not expel Northern Ireland from the Union.
If an IRA leader had understood that such pressure was on for a united Ireland, he might have taken heart. He might even have ended the IRA campaign and left it to others to finish the job.
The party that broke that broad front was the SDLP. When Hume, in later years, was boring us with platitudes, what he was saying was that we could still have power-sharing with an Irish dimension and implicit in this was an assurance that that was what most of the people would settle for.
Had he made a soft deal with Molyneaux in the 1980s, he would not have delivered his plan. He would simply have become a de facto unionist with an acknowledged, but impossible, aspiration to be Irish.
And he would have been vulnerable to continuing paramilitary campaigns by the IRA and the loyalists. The SDLP would have been wiped out before it had delivered anything.
When Heath was on the verge of introducing direct rule, Alec Douglas Home wrote to him to urge him to set a united Ireland as the goal of policy.
In his letter, he said that the Irish are not like the Scots and the Welsh and will always be a problem inside the Union.
Douglas Home was right. When the Irish saw British soldiers on the street, they did not think of them as "our" soldiers. When those soldiers killed people, Irish people did not think of that as being done on their behalf, for their security, the way a Londoner might regard the shooting of a suspect, even an innocent suspect, by the Metropolitan Police.
The option of turning us into contented West Brits was not there, but neither was there any prospect of winning a majority of nationalists over to supporting the IRA.
There was an internal logic to this situation and Hume understood it and, in the end, it was the force of that logic that drew the IRA into constitutional nationalism, where their brothers and sisters and cousins and all were waiting for them.
That logic was founded on the simple fact that most people who called themselves nationalists in that generation had no wish to face the disruption, violence and cost of a united Ireland.
Future generations may think differently.