WHY HAS it taken so long for the balaclava to be wrenched from the face of Sinn Fein/IRA?
As people contemplate their grotesque offer to shoot the murderers of Robert McCartney, many must be wondering how the British and Irish governments ever thought they could do business with these people.
How could our politicians have allowed the republican movement to turn itself into a billionaire mafia during a decade of intense negotiations about power-sharing in Northern Ireland?
How could Tony Blair launch an international crusade against terrorism, yet also embrace these men of violence?
How did Gerry Adams - who with Martin McGuinness is on the IRA's Army Council - get away with claiming he was never even a member?
How did a fascist movement that aspires to establish a totalitarian socialist state on the island of Ireland, win international sympathy and approval?
A university contemporary told me recently that he had never agreed with my views about the peace process, but that I had now been proven to be right.
How could a man like that - at the top of his profession - have been for so long so resistant to the truth?
There are many reasons. First, the leaders of the republican movement are hard, hard men.
Earlier generations of British politicians, who had seen war and experienced suffering, might have had some chance of recognising what kind of people they were dealing with. But modern ministers have led soft lives; few of them will have seen any sights more bloody than a cut finger.
They were not equipped to understand what they were up against: men who had spent decades killing and maiming and inflicting suffering, who in many cases had suffered prison and injury and fear themselves, and who had become brutalised in the process. And who covered their hardness with soft words.
Unlike normal politicians, these hard men had been turned into a model of discipline by paramilitary training - fluently producing weasel words, politically correct language and high-flown peace-babble.
And because they had no scruples of any kind, they were fine propagandists, happy to repeat any lie over and over again.
Gerry Adams took this to the lengths of producing three volumes of autobiography: all of which claimed he had never been a member of the IRA.
Sinn Fein/IRA used whatever weapons they had. After the ceasefires, they could use arms only to subdue their own communities, but they learned to use lawyers like guns. Critics were stifled by libel writs.
By now, the people were sick of the Troubles and wanted to believe that Sinn Fein would become exclusively political and get rid of the IRA.
As for the politicians, Tony Blair is a natural optimist who believes he can convince anyone of anything. Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern rose to power because of his skills as a fixer, and he believed he could fix the IRA into oblivion. Bill Clinton thought his charm would prevail.
So there were many wishful thinkers in politics and the media willing the peace process to succeed.
Even most of the sceptics, like me, actually backed the peace process, for we recognised that the British and Irish governments had neither the will nor the courage to deal firmly with terrorism and that they had allowed Sinn Fein/IRA to win the international propaganda war.
There was no credible alternative to negotiating a power-sharing deal. Still, we warned that these men could not be taken at face value, that although many youngsters had joined the IRA through perverted idealism, it made money out of robbery, smuggling, protection rackets, counterfeiting and other crimes.
The same, of course, though on a smaller scale, applied to the loyalist paramilitaries, but since few voted for them, they were tiny players.
We sceptics still believed that Sinn Fein and the IRA were inextricably linked, that when Adams and Martin McGuinness went to consult the IRA, they were talking to themselves.
We said that they should be given no concessions without a quid pro quo, for they would take, take and take without feeling any moral obligation to give.
We said that power-sharing could work only if the governments made it clear that the paramilitaries had to be completely disbanded.
We were whistling in the wind. In making demands of the paramilitaries, the governments, along with their media cheerleaders, favoured what became known as 'constructive ambiguity' and unilateral gestures.
In what set the tone of what had mutated into the appeasement process, after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, paramilitary prisoners were released as a goodwill gesture without an ounce of Semtex being given in exchange.
No wonder that in the higher echelons of the republican movement Tony Blair's nickname was 'The Naive Idiot'.
Three months ago, the governments were all set to rubberstamp a deal that would have seen justice and policing devolved to a power-sharing executive, including a Sinn Fein party with a private army.
That was then. Now, because of a bizarre sequence of events that included the €26.5m Northern Bank robbery, the murder of Robert McCartney and the extraordinary courage and integrity of his family, as well as the Irish police raids that uncovered part of the IRA's vast money-laundering organisation, the Republican balaclava has been torn off.
The Irish Minister for Justice has even named Adams and McGuinness as members of the IRA Army Council and the US administration has turned against Republicans.
As the lid is lifted on the mafia that republicanism has become, people who believed the lies are horrified. They feel betrayed.