A big lie that prevailed through much of the Troubles period was that the British Government did not - and would not - talk to terrorists. In fact, Edward Heath's Government negotiated the first IRA ceasefire in June 1972. The British offered a meeting between the Secretary of State, William Whitelaw, and the IRA leadership.
The IRA learnt a lot from that process. They knew by the time it was over that the British would talk to them again some day.
The British had effectively disclosed their understanding of what a ceasefire entailed. It was simply to be an agreement that the IRA would not shoot soldiers, or police officers, and would not bomb property. Killing civilians and other paramilitaries didn't ruffle British ministers.
On the very morning that the IRA leaders travelled to London to meet Whitelaw, their gunmen in Belfast killed two people. The meeting went ahead despite that.
In fact, both wings of the IRA, during the fortnight of the ceasefire, killed more people than they had killed in the two weeks preceding it. But still, the Army suspended raids and searches, travelled in open-top Land Rovers and soldiers wore their rifles slung over their shoulders rather than at the ready.
The IRA had sought the right to conduct itself as the legitimate army in its own areas. The volunteers did what the British Army did when people drove through their checkpoints: they shot them in the back.
So, Arlene Foster might have felt entitled to be sniffy about any criticism of her for meeting with representatives of loyalist paramilitaries this week, since there is such a history of meetings with paramilitaries with political agendas.
But there is a difference. When British officials met the IRA, it was to try to negotiate an end to a terrorist campaign that challenged the legitimacy of the state.
Arlene Foster is meeting loyalists ostensibly to brief them on her campaign to end the Northern Ireland Protocol, which currently disrupts trade from Great Britain and compromises the Union.
The precedent for that meeting is not Whitelaw's "whites of the eyes" meeting with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and the other fanatics gathered round them; it was an entirely different event.
In 1974, the DUP leadership joined with loyalist paramilitaries in a strategy to oppose the power-sharing agreement arrived at Sunningdale the previous year.
An Executive had been established, with ministers from the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party. Unionism split, largely in horror at a provision of the agreement which created a Council of Ireland.
The Ulster Workers Council meeting at a house in Hawthornden Road planned a strike that threatened power supplies, stopped people going to work and ultimately made Northern Ireland ungovernable.
The-then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, refused to use the Army against the strikers and to occupy the power stations and the Assembly fell, not to be reconstituted for another quarter of a century. This was a coup.
The IRA had not been part of the negotiations. Sinn Fein had no seats and precious few votes, anyway, but for a time the SDLP, representing the majority of Catholics, had shown a willingness to govern alongside unionists and to defy the IRA's untenable demand for a full British withdrawal.
At the time of the strike, when the DUP was sitting with the UVF, the UDA and the Ulster Vanguard movement, loyalist paramilitaries escalated their own campaigns. They bombed Dublin and Monaghan and killed 34 people.
This is not to say that the DUP approved the bombings, but their party leader Ian Paisley sat at the table with the leaders of the organisation which carried it out.
Indeed, he joined the meetings after the bombings, in the second week of the strike, already knowing about the bombings.
There is a story that one of the UDA men, ordered to guard the door, drew a gun on Paisley when he arrived and at first refused to let him in.
The DUP shared other enterprises with loyalists through a "Third Force" campaign, Ulster Resistance and in the Drumcree campaign of the mid 1990s for the right of Orangemen to march down the Garvaghy Road.
Were Paisley alive today, we might imagine him thundering his contempt for the Protocol and making dark intimations of the danger that a sleeping beast of Ulster loyalism would come growling from its slumber.
But he isn't - and things have changed anyway.
Loyalists looked back later on Paisley as a rabble-rouser, who would inspire them to take to the streets and then campaign for capital punishment when they were imprisoned.
Arlene Foster is not going to don a red Ulster Resistance beret and lead a popular revolt on the streets. So, what are the lessons she can take from the past?
When loyalists and their sympathisers hear the challenge from the Alliance Party to the First Minister meeting those who speak for men with woolly faces, they bridle. They sense that something is seriously unequal about their treatment.
And, inevitably, there is, because loyalists didn't manage to translate their paramilitary campaign into a major political party.
But they see that Arlene went to the funeral of Volunteer McGuinness and that she sits in an Executive with former members of the IRA and others who continue to revere the memory of the IRA campaign and to treat political criminals as heroes.
What she can't do is concede that the loyalists are somehow worse than the republicans.
She could acknowledge the DUP's long history of discussions with loyalist paramilitaries. Someone needs to break the pattern of carrying the past with us.
Michelle O'Neill isn't going to do it. Mary Lou MacDonald says she might have joined the IRA herself, if she had been old enough, so a candid break from the past isn't going to come from her.
William Whitelaw met the IRA because they were alien to him and unintelligible and he needed to understand them.
The DUP, in meeting loyalists, is having a conversation within their own family and it is a family with a history that it needs to reconcile with the present day.