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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 15:09 GMT

David Trimble: More enemies than friends

David Trimble: Peace prize has not silenced critics

By BBC News Online's Gary Duffy

Nobel peace prize winner and First Minister he may be, but David Trimble has many critics spanning Northern Ireland's political divide.

Unionist opponents regard him as man who sold out to their longstanding republican enemies, while nationalist critics have little faith in his willingness to fully recognise their rights.

David Trimble was the surprise winner in the race for the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party in 1995, despite little support from his fellow MPs.

[ image: Protest at Drumcree]
Protest at Drumcree
In part, the success was explained by his high-profile role during a stand-off in Drumcree between members of the Protestant Orange Order and local Catholic residents.

When Orange Order marchers were able to follow their preferred route, despite the objections of people in the area, Mr Trimble was at the head of the parade, alongside his fellow unionist leader Ian Paisley.

A veteran of Northern Ireland politics, Mr Trimble was involved in the hardline Vanguard Party led by William Craig in the early 1970s. Years later he described a speech in which Mr Craig spoke of "our duty to liquidate the enemy" as "over the top".

The Search for Peace
In 1978, he entered mainstream unionism and joined the Ulster Unionist Party, and in 1990 he was elected as MP for Upper Bann.

Soon after he was elected party leader, Mr Trimble showed he was prepared to upset some of the unionist rank and file by meeting with the main party leaders in the Irish Republic.

[ image: David Trimble, John Hume and Bono of U2 say yes to the Agreement]
David Trimble, John Hume and Bono of U2 say yes to the Agreement
A former lecturer in law at Queen's University, he needed all his negotiating skills for the multi-party talks which concluded with the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998.

He gave his backing to the deal despite the opposition of more than half his parliamentary colleagues, but later won support for his approach from the party's ruling body.

The endorsement given to the agreement by 71% of the electorate in Northern Ireland, while less than the Ulster Unionist leader had hoped for, was still enough to claim victory in the unionist camp.

Mr Trimble was elected as First Minister designate of the new Northern Ireland assembly in July 1998, with the nationalist Seamus Mallon as his deputy.

While at times they were able to speak with one voice, their relationship has often been very strained.

Mr Trimble broke with precedent to meet Sinn Fein leaders, but his insistence that the IRA hand over weapons before a new executive or cabinet was formed led republicans to accuse him of going back on the Good Friday Agreement.

In October 1998, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with John Hume, an award which was seen as recognition for Mr Trimble's ability to hold his nerve and back the agreement, despite the doubts of many unionists.

The Ulster Unionist leader may have won few friends in his political career, but he has so far shown an ability to judge the majority opinion within the unionist community.

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In this section

David Trimble: More enemies than friends

John Hume: Midwife to the peace process

Mo Mowlam: London's eternal optimist

Gerry Adams: Between war and peace

Ian Paisley: Ulster's No man

John de Chastelain: Arms and the man

Mallon: Calling a spade a spade

David Ervine: Leaving the past behind