Good Friday Agreement co-architect passes away

29 July 2022

“There are two traditions in Northern Ireland. There are two main religious denominations. But there is only one true moral denomination. And it wants peace.”

Then UUP Leader David Trimble speaking on receipt of his Nobel peace prize in 1998 which he shared with then SDLP leader John Hume. 

The two men as leaders of Northern Ireland then main unionist and nationalist parties were fundamental actors in establishing peace in Northern Ireland.  

Trimble was born in Belfast in 1944, he attended Bangor Grammar school and then studied Law at Queens University Belfast. He qualified as a Barrister and began a career as a lecturer at Queens University, during this time his friend and fellow law professor Edgar Graham was shot dead by the IRA, Trimble was tasked with identifying his body. 

In the early 70s, he became involved with the right-wing, paramilitary-linked Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party (known as Vanguard) however after Vanguard disbanded he would join the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party. He would become MP for upper Bann in a by-election in 1990, and subsequently leader of the party in 1995.  

Despite being a proud Orangeman and committed Unionist, Trimble used his leadership for a number of symbolic firsts, he became the first UUP leader in thirty years to meet with the Irish Taoiseach in Dublin and in 1997 became the first unionist leader since the partition of Ireland in 1921 to agree to negotiate with Sinn Féin.  

Trimble led the UUP delegation in the All Party Negotiations, the talks would eventually lead to the Good Friday Agreement that would define his legacy.  

Trimble was instrumental in getting his party and indeed unionists onboard with the agreement. On 22 May 1998, voters in Northern Ireland approved the agreement, with 71 per cent in favour of the Agreement. Trimble was elected on 25 June 1998 as a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for Upper Bann. He was elected First Minister of Northern Ireland on 1 July 1998.

As the peace process began to work both original moderate parties the UUP and SDLP saw the more extreme but now politically palatable parties of the DUP and Sinn Féin eat away at their vote share.  Trimble ran for MP again in 2005 but was unsuccessful the UUP would only win one seat in that election, Trimble took a seat in the House of Lords as a life peer in 2006.  

Trimble passed away on Monday 25th of July aged 77.  Current UUP Leader  Doug  Beattie paying tribute stated: “David Trimble was 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.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was “deeply saddened” at the news. While SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described Mr Trimble as a man of “immense courage”.