Some say Ian Paisley's recent bawlings about sackcloth and ashes were the eruptions of a near-extinct volcano. 'The big man's only speaking to his constituents in Ballygobackwards!' they say, sometimes adding a chuckle, which shows how people can kid themselves that the chief stirrer of the sectarian pot here for forty years is really a loveable old uncle.
In fact Paisley was doing more than throwing a bone to his DUP troglodytes. Talk of men with blood-drenched hands goes down well in the wilder reaches of his parish but the real purpose of his words was to make his version of the past the generally-accepted one.
That's important. If he can get the public to buy a one-dimensional vision of the last thirty-five years, he's got a better chance of getting them to share his vision of the future.
The Paisley version of the past looks like this. In the 1940s and 1950s, the north was a decent, church-going place where people feared God and honoured the King/Queen. Then in the 1960s people pretending they were civil righters rose up. Owing to weak unionist leadership these republican criminals were allowed to go on a thirty-year killing spree, which has only begun to end.
That's the past. The future? If these men of blood are to be allowed into government with decent people like Mr Paisley and his followers, they must acknowledge their sins and do public/ photographic penance. But they will be there on probation. One false move and they're out.
The UUP has different words from the DUP a bit less Biblical in flavour but the tune's the same. Northern Ireland may have been a chilly house for Catholics but that was no excuse for a decades-long killing spree. Republicans must say they're sorry, accept the blame for the Troubles and give an assurance they will never engage in such criminal activity again.
The Alliance Party, being a unionist party, takes a similar line. As for the PUP, it blames the IRA for IRA violence AND for UVF and UDA violence, since loyalist violence is a reaction and so not really as bad. That's also why republican decommissioning matters and loyalist decommissioning doesn't.
And the SDLP? In a letter to this paper on Monday, Carmel Hanna argued that in the 1960s the IRA infiltrated the civil rights movement, damaged its moral authority and engaged in unnecessary, counter-productive violence for the next twenty-five years.
The views of southern parties like Fine Gael and the PDs are well known. The PD's Michael McDowell twitches at the word 'republican' and catalogues fuel smugglings and punishment beatings. Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell was white with rage on RTE on Monday night as he detailed the criminality of those who killed Detective Jerry McCabe.
Now the people in all these parties, from Paisley to Mitchell, are not stupid people. Not for one moment do they believe that the last thirty-five years in the north was a freakish outbreak of mass criminality. They know the IRA emerged from decades of state discrimination and repression, not vice versa.
But to admit this central truth that past violence and responsibility for past violence was many-stranded would mean accepting a more complex past and coping with a more complex future and that's the last thing they want.
That's why you won't hear many calls for a truth and reconciliation commission. It's easier to blame the past on the IRA and call on it to repent. It's harder to admit to the part others played in inflicting pain. British secretary of state Paul Murphy says he's in favour of a forum where people can tell their story. But he's firm that this is a forum that the British government will chair or observe from the sidelines because the British government doesn't need to be involved in any truth-telling exercise, because it's always told the truth, start to finish.
Which brings us back to Ian Paisley's obsession with photographs. A picture means damn-all proof-wise and Ian knows that. How could it? But if he had such a photograph, it would provide a powerful focus for his version of the past. With that constant reminder to hand, he'd be better placed to exercise choking control of the Croppies when and if he agreed to let them into Stormont, and to have public backing for so doing.
Yesterday (Wednesday) Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law were killed in the Shankill bomb, described Paisley as an unstable old man.
No he's not. He is an immovable boulder in the path of those who prefer truth to caricature and progress to abuse.