David Trimble, architect of the Good Friday pact in Northern Ireland, has died


David Trimble, a prominent Protestant politician in Northern Ireland who set aside his hard line to become a key negotiator in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, an agreement that ended decades of sectarian violence known as the name of Troubles and brought him a share of the Nobel Peace Prize, who died on July 25 in a Belfast hospital. He was 77 years old.

The Ulster Unionist Party, which Mr Trimble led from 1995 to 2005, announced his death but did not name a specific cause.

Mr Trimble was the first holder of the post of First Minister of Northern Ireland, a post created – along with the equal rank of Deputy First Minister – in the power-sharing agreement between British loyalists and Irish Republicans established under the Good Friday agreement. The two groups had been engaged in often violent conflict since the late 1960s when The Troubles began.

Loyalists, or Unionists, were largely Protestant and wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Irish Republicans, also known as Nationalists, drew their inspiration primarily from the region’s Catholic minority and advocated for an independent and united Ireland. The struggle between the two factions left more than 3,500 dead, as Northern Ireland endured years of bombings, shootings and unrest that at times seemed intractable.

Mr Trimble, a law professor and lay lawyer in Belfast, had grown up in a Presbyterian family and initially aligned himself with the hardline Vanguard movement, which was described by the Guardian as an “extreme unionist group”.

During the Persian Gulf War, Mr Trimble compared the Republic of Ireland’s claims to Northern Ireland to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s attempt to take Kuwait. Once, after a march in a Catholic area near Belfast, Mr Trimble danced a jig with the Reverend Ian Paisley, a Protestant minister whose fiery rhetoric had long fueled anti-Catholic sentiment and violence in Northern Ireland.

“I would personally draw the line on violence and terrorism,” the Independent quoted Mr Trimble as saying. “But if we’re talking about a campaign that involves protests etc., then some amount of violence may be unavoidable.”

Over time, however, Mr Trimble moderated his views and he found a new political home in the more traditional Ulster Unionist Party in the late 1970s. He began a political rise, winning election to British Parliament in 1990. To the amazement of many observers of political unrest in Northern Ireland, he became one of the leading figures in a peace process he had once opposed.

“Ulster Unionists, fearing isolation on the island, built a strong house, but it was a cold house for Catholics,” Mr Trimble said. said later, reflecting on the view he has come to have. “And the Nationalists of the North, although they had a roof over their heads, seemed to us to want to burn down the house.”

Other key participants in the peace process in Northern Ireland included John Hume, a Catholic politician who led the Social Democratic and Labor Party; Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army; and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine), who helped broker the Good Friday Agreement as special envoy under President Bill Clinton.

The 1998 Nobel Peace Prize ultimately went to Hume and Mr. Trimble. (Hume died in 2020.)

“As leader of the traditionally predominant party in Northern Ireland”, the Norwegian Nobel Committee declared, “David Trimble showed great political courage when, at a critical stage in the process, he advocated solutions that led to the peace agreement. As Head of Government of Northern Ireland, he took the first steps towards building the mutual trust on which a lasting peace must be based.

That mutual trust has at times seemed tenuous, as Mr Trimble has faced criticism from within his party for his role in the peace process. He lost his seat in parliament in 2005, prompting the Guardian report that “the center has abandoned the Northern Ireland policy”. Mr Trimble became a member of the House of Lords in 2006 and joined the Conservative Party the following year.

‘David faced enormous challenges when he led the Ulster Unionist Party in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations and persuaded his party to sign,’ Adams said after Mr Trimble’s death in a statement quoted by the Associated Press.

“Although we have fundamentally different political views on the way forward, I nevertheless believe that he was determined to make the peace process work,” Adams continued. “David’s contribution to the Good Friday Agreement and the quarter century of relative peace that followed cannot be underestimated.”

William David Trimble was born in Bangor, a seaside resort near Belfast, on October 15, 1944. His parents worked in the civil service.

Mr Trimble studied law at Queen’s University Belfast, where he graduated in 1968 and remained a lecturer during the early years of his political career.

His first marriage, to Heather McComb, ended in divorce. In 1978, he married Daphne Orr. Besides his wife, the survivors include their four children: Richard, Victoria, Nicholas and Sarah.

In his Nobel ConferenceMr Trimble said he was “personally and perhaps culturally conditioned to be skeptical of speeches full of sound and fury, idealistic in intent but impossible to implement”.

“I resist the kind of rhetoric that substitutes steam for vision,” he continued. “Instinctively, I identify with the person who said that when he heard a politician talk about his vision, he recommended that he consult an optician!”

He did, however, manage to be rhetorical in this speech, evoking the green hills of his homeland.

“Politics can be compared to driving at night over unknown hills and mountains,” Mr Trimble observed. “We should be encouraged that we’ve come this far and face the next hill, rather than the mountain beyond. It’s not that the mountain isn’t on my mind, but the hill must d first be climbed.

“There are hills in Northern Ireland and there are mountains,” he continued. “The mountain, if we could see it clearly, is not in front of us but behind us, in history. The dark shadow we seem to see in the distance is not really a mountain in front of us, but the shadow of the mountain behind – a shadow of the past cast into our future. It is a black sludge of historical bigotry. We can leave it behind if we wish.


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