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Archbishop McDowell praises courage of David Trimble, Irish peace builder

26 July 2022

Lord Trimble died on Monday, aged 77


David Trimble (right) with John Hume and Bono in 1998

David Trimble (right) with John Hume and Bono in 1998

TRIBUTES have been paid to the “unshakeable” politician and Nobel Peace Laureate, Lord Trimble, who died on Monday, aged 77.

Lord Trimble, who led the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) between 1995 and 2005, was instrumental in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The multi-party agreement brought an end to decades of political conflict and violence in Northern Ireland. He and the then Social Democratic and Labour Party leader, John Hume, jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize that year for their work.

Lord Trimble became the first to serve as first minister in the new Northern Ireland Executive which was established as part of the agreement. He resigned leadership of his party in 2005 after being defeated at the General Election. He was made a life peer the following year, and most recently spoke in opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol (part of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement).

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

The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the Most Revd John McDowell, said on Tuesday that his death had “removed one of the major figures in the political life of Northern Ireland and of these islands. In an age where leadership has become thinned out and almost paralysed by slavish attention to shifting opinion, David Trimble represented a different sort of politician.”

He continued: “Although unshakeable in his allegiance to the Union, he was one of the first unionist leaders for whom the word ‘agreement’ had positive moral, social and political value. David Trimble had perhaps the greatest of public virtues — courage: both the courage of his convictions and the courage to acknowledge the heartfelt and sincere convictions of others. He had also a forensic quality of mind and an aptitude for attention to detail which went far beyond the merely lawyerly.”

The path of peacemaker was not easy, the Archbishop said. “It was the conviction that hard political and moral choices, accompanied by much personal sacrifice, would lead to a reconciled and better future that led David Trimble, the late John Hume, and many others to take the lead in building a better future for all in Northern Ireland.”

A former Archbishop Lord Eames (1986-2006) told the Church Times on Tuesday that it was “impossible to overestimate” the part Lord Trimble played in the peace process.

“Long before it was customary to think in terms of bridge-building, he grasped the opportunity to see what was possible if the guns could fall silent,” he said. “In the negotiations which led to ceasefires, there was a desperate need to find political structures which would follow and build upon the tentative agreements between the men of violence. This was his greatest achievement. He turned what was just possible into something which cemented political reality.”

In his 20 years as the Archbishop of Armagh, Lord Eames had been “privileged to enjoy his friendship and to know something of his vision for the future. He suffered politically for the risks he was prepared to take. Yet his personal pragmatism and relentless determination to ask ‘why not?’ have gained for him a place in Irish history which remains unequalled.”

He continued: “Having been involved myself in the early days of peace-building I have no doubt at all that without the courage of David little worthwhile could have been achieved.”

Lord Trimble “rarely talked about his personal faith but those who knew him well had little doubt of his deep confidence in his Presbyterian roots expressed in regular church attendance”, he said. “The support of his wife Daphne throughout the turbulent days was immense.”

Sir Tony Blair also used the word “immense” to describe the contribution of Lord Trimble to the peace process. He told the Radio 4 Today programme: “He was never in any doubt that he was going to be accused of betrayal. He paid the political price for that. . . Once he said he would do something, he did it, that was absolutely invaluable to the trust needed to make the process work.”

The former US President Bill Clinton said that Lord Trimble’s “lifetime of service helped bring peace to Northern Ireland. . . Time after time during the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement, he made the hard choices over the politically expedient ones because he believed future generations deserved to grow up free from violence and hatred.

“His faith in the democratic process allowed him to stand up to strong opposition in his own community, persuade them of the merits of compromise, and share power with his former adversaries. His legacy will endure in all who are living better lives because of him today.”

Lord Trimble is survived by his wife, Lady Daphne, and their four children.

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