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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 15:19 GMT
Profile: David Trimble
David Trimble with John Hume at the Nobel Academy
Nobel Peace Prize: Some said that it was premature
Like many of Northern Ireland's politicians, David Trimble has undertaken an immense political journey over the 30 years of the Troubles.

In 1995, he appeared at the annual Drumcree parade, hand-in-hand with hardliner Ian Paisley before hundreds of Orangemen after they won the stand-off with the nationalist community of the Garvaghy Road.


We are deeply offended at the gratuitous insult to the community. This is the shoddiest piece of work I have seen in my public life

David Trimble on the Patten Commission
Three years later, he became the first leader of the Ulster Unionists to negotiate with Sinn Fein.

David Trimble was born in October 1944 and is married with four children.

A barrister and Queen's University lecturer by profession, he has been accused by many in his own camp of being the man who sold out to republican terrorism.

But to add to his problems, many nationalists and republicans have accused him of not really wanting to treat the Catholic community as equals.

That critical view has been exacerbated by his stance on policing reform and, most importantly, his decision for a time to no longer sit in government with republicans who refused to decommission weapons.

From hardline to powersharing

David Trimble entered politics through the hardline Vanguard Party in the early 1970s. He joined mainstream unionism in 1978 and entered Westminster as the MP for Upper Bann in 1990.

When the news broke that he was the surprise winner of the Ulster Unionist leadership election in 1995, many feared it marked the end of the peace process.


We have done our bit - Mr Adams, it is over to you. We have jumped, you follow

David Trimble, November 1999
But he went on to confound one set of critics by cutting the historic deal with nationalists and republicans that led to powersharing.

In doing so, he created critics within his own community and to Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists, Mr Trimble is little more than a traitor.

Despite these accusations, Mr Trimble's decision in 1998 to sign the Good Friday Agreement won him support in London, Dublin and Washington and led to him sharing the Nobel Peace Prize with SDLP leader John Hume.

Leadership challenge

What has been clear since then is that Mr Trimble has been unable to count on the overwhelming support of unionists.

His turbulent ride has mirrored that of predecessors who had tried to reform the party, Northern Ireland and the relationship with the Catholic community and the Irish Republic.


In Ulster, what I have looked for is a peace within the realms of the possible

Nobel Peace Prize speech, 1998
In the 1998 Assembly election, anti-agreement unionists in his own constituency almost polled as many votes as the Ulster Unionist Party - presaging what would come at the 2001 general election.

His relationship with the party's ruling council has had more than its fair share of ups and downs.

When he first called on the council to support his joining the executive, 72% of its 860 members backed him.

That support dropped to just 58% when he put the George Mitchell Review to the party in November 1999 - and then further still to just 53% in May 2000.

In the same year, the Reverend Martin Smyth MP, a former head of the Orange Order, challenged him for the leadership and won 43% of the vote.

The real challenger, if and when it comes, is still expected to be the anti-agreement MP Jeffrey Donaldson.

On more than one occasion, Mr Trimble has made overtures towards Mr Donaldson.

But following the loss of the South Antrim by-election in September 2000 - once the party's second safest seat - Mr Donaldson called for the party to begin a phased withdrawal from the executive in order to pressure the IRA. Mr Trimble dismissed the strategy as a "wishlist".

General election disaster

As the 2001 general election approached, Mr Trimble knew that he was facing a tough battle with the Democratic Unionists for supremacy among the community.

Seeking to shore up his own support, David Trimble pledged to resign as First Minister at the end of June should there be no movement on IRA arms decommissioning.

However, the Democratic Unionists treated the election as a second referendum on the Good Friday Agreement and pummelled the UUP, increasing its own representation from two to five seats - just one behind Mr Trimble's party.

Working for tomorrow

There were still doubts over whether Mr Trimble could command the full support of his own party.

His resignation as first minister was later followed, as he hoped, by a breakthrough over the key issue of weapons.

The IRA agreed to put some weapons beyond use in October 2001, and Mr Trimble agreed to return to government.

But two of his own party failed to vote for his re-election, again throwing the Northern Ireland power-sharing executive into crisis.

In the face of such opposition to his leadership Mr Trimble has always acknowledged that making the peace work would not be easy.

Speaking as he received his Nobel Peace Prize, he said: "This is what I have tried to do: to tell unionists to give things a chance to develop."

"We have started. And we will go on. Sometimes we will stumble, maybe even go back a bit.

"But this need not matter if, in the spirit of an old Irish proverb, we say to ourselves, 'Tomorrow is another day'."

Mr Trimble will need that sense of resolve in the days and week ahead.


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See also:

26 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Profile: Jeffrey Donaldson MP
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