Tributes flow for Lord Trimble, Good Friday Agreement architect and former UUP leader

Trimble, one of the principal designers of the Belfast Agreement, was 77

Former UUP leader David Trimble. PA
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Former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble has died, the Ulster Unionist Party has announced.

“It is with great sadness that the family of Lord Trimble announce that he passed away peacefully earlier today following a short illness,” the UUP said in a statement on behalf of the Trimble family.

One of the principal architects of the Belfast Agreement, which ended decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, Trimble was 77.

Trimble, who won the Nobel Peace Prize along with SDLP leader John Hume, died on July 25 after an illness.

The man from County Down distinguished himself in an academic career in the law faculty at the Queen’s University Belfast before moving into politics.

Trimble initially became involved in the unionist offshoot organisation Vanguard in the early 1970s.

And while he was best known for his involvement with the Belfast Agreement, in his younger days he had opposed an earlier attempt, the Sunningdale Agreement.

Trimble went on to join the then-dominant Ulster Unionist Party in 1978.

US President Biden warns UK not to damage Northern Ireland peace over Brexit

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At the university in 1983, he heard the IRA gunshots that killed his fellow law professor and UUP colleague Edgar Graham and later identified the body.

He left academia for politics full-time when he was elected as MP for Upper Bann after a by-election in 1990 following the death of Harold McCusker.

Trimble rose to prominence partly because of the Drumcree dispute, as nationalist residents opposed the procession of an Orange parade along the Garvaghy Road.

He led the parade along the road in 1995, famously joining hands with Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley.

Politicians who played key roles at various points in Northern Ireland’s arduous peace process have paid tribute to Trimble’s work.

Former prime minister Sir Tony Blair said his contribution was “immense, unforgettable and frankly irreplaceable”.

“David Trimble, in his support of the peace process, showed politics at its very best," Sir Tony said.

“When some within his own ranks were opposed to the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement, he supported it.

"When we needed his willingness to go the extra mile for peace, he travelled that mile.

"When there was the prospect of collapse of the process without strong leadership, he provided that leadership."

Sir Tony’s predecessor, Sir John Major, praised Trimble’s “critical” role in building peace.

“When David Trimble became leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, he made a critical contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process," Sir John said.

“He shed his former opposition to the process and became an innovative advocate for a peaceful settlement.

“This was a brave and principled change of policy, and critical to the creation of peace in Northern Ireland.

“He thoroughly merits an honourable place amongst peacemakers.”

Former Irish premier Bertie Ahern said: “He was a courageous man and I had many a row with him and many arguments.

"And in more recent years we’ve had good laughs about those debates. But he was tough.

“As a good negotiator I think when he made the deal, when he settled something, he stuck by it. Subsequently, he paid the price.

"And in spite of the horrendous problems that he was under from within his own party and from outside the wider Unionist group, in that last week of the Good Friday agreement he stuck by it.

“He got a lot of criticism from the wider unionist family but you know, I have great admiration for him.”

Former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams thanked Trimble for helping to get the Good Friday Agreement over the line in 1998.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his achievements would never be forgotten.

“He was a giant of British and international politics and will be long remembered for his intellect, personal bravery and fierce determination to change politics for the better,” he tweeted on Tursday.

Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin recognised his “central contribution” in efforts to secure peace and reconciliation.

“All of us in politics at the time witnessed his crucial and courageous role in the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement and his leadership in building support in his party and his community for the Agreement,” Mr Martin said.

Irish President Michael Higgins expressed his deep sadness and praised Trimble's “life of public service”.

“David Trimble’s dedication and courage, often during the most challenging times, has earned him a distinguished and deserved place in our history books,” Mr Higgins said.

“His work leaves a true legacy on the necessity and value of peace on our shared island for future generations.”

UUP leader Doug Beattie described the former first minister as “a man of courage and vision”.

“He chose to grasp the opportunity for peace when it presented itself and sought to end the decades of violence that blighted his beloved Northern Ireland,” Mr Beattie said.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “Very sad news. David Trimble was a towering figure of Northern Ireland and British politics as one of the key authors of the Good Friday Agreement, the first First Minister and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

"My thoughts are with Lady Trimble and their family.”

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill tweeted: “His very significant contribution to the peace process and his courage in helping achieve the Good Friday Agreement leaves a legacy a quarter century on for which he and his family should be rightly proud.”

Democratic Unionist Party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson described Trimble as a “committed and passionate advocate for the Union”, at a time when doing so posed a considerable threat to his safety.

“Whilst our political paths parted within the Ulster Unionist Party, there can be no doubting his bravery and determination in leadership at that time," said Sir Jeffrey, who quit the UUP and defected to the DUP while Trimble was leader.

"He was a committed and passionate unionist who always wanted the best for Northern Ireland.”

Alliance leader Naomi Long said: “Lord Trimble’s greatest legacy to his political career is the Good Friday Agreement and the risks he took to both help achieve it, and ensuring the resulting Assembly remained during its unsteady early days.

"It was at times an unenviable role. His contribution to the peace process and the ending of violence in our society helped secure his place in history.”

The leader of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party, Colum Eastwood, said Trimble had left an “indelible mark on our shared island’s story” and that without him there would not have been a Good Friday Agreement.

“Over the course of his political career but particularly in difficult years of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations he demonstrated immense courage and took political risks that sustained the life of our fledgling peace process,” Mr Eastwood said.

“He doesn’t often enough get credit for it but without David Trimble’s fortitude, there would simply have been no Agreement.”

Updated: July 25, 2022, 11:02 PM