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BBC News Front Page | World | In depth | Northern Ireland

The search for peace
David Trimble
Profiles Themes
• Jeffrey Donaldson

• Decommissioning
• Marching and parades

David Trimble
• Peace talks
• Good Friday Agreement
• Siege of Drumcree

• UUP

Events Parties and paramilitaries
Piece together the puzzle of the Northern Ireland conflict by clicking the related subjects above.


• David Trimble accepts the Nobel peace prize, 1998
• Trimble on the Good Friday Agreement, 1998

David Trimble

As with many Northern Ireland 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.

Three years later he became the first leader of the Ulster Unionists to negotiate with Sinn Fein.

However, his focus throughout 1999 on paramilitary decommissioning and the IRA's apparent refusal to disarm serves as a reminder that the Good Friday Agreement was only the first step on a long road towards building trust between the different communities of Northern Ireland.

Mr Trimble, a barrister and Queen's University lecturer by profession, has been accused by many of his own camp of being the man who sold out to the Republicans.

And while he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with John Hume of the SDLP, nationalist critics have often shown little faith in his ability to bring the unionist people with him.

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 Mr Craig's infamous 1972 speech where he spoke of loyalists "duty to liquidate the enemy" as "over the top".

Mr Trimble entered mainstream unionism in 1978. In 1990 he was elected as MP for Upper Bann.

Five years later he became the surprise winner of the leadership race in the wake of his Drumcree appearance.

Despite his reputation from the 1970s and opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Mr Trimble showed he was prepared to upset unionists by meeting with the main party leaders in the Republic. Mr Trimble lost the support of more than half of his parliamentary colleagues during the peace talks which culminated in the Good Friday Agreement.

But Mr Trimble carried a majority of the UUP's ruling council with him and went on to persuade a fractured unionist community to vote for the Agreement, albeit with a smaller majority than he would have wished for.

In scenes that had seemed impossible just a few years before, Mr Trimble was named first minister with the SDLP's Seamus Mallon as his deputy. In its early days, the relationship personified the possibilities of a permanent change in the political culture of the province.

That relationship collapsed in July 1999 when Mr Trimble's party refused to sit with Sinn Fein on the Northern Ireland executive until the IRA began decommissionig. The decision put power-sharing on hold indefinitely.

But the recall of Senator George Mitchell put the process back on track, and Mr Trimble supported the plan to form a power-sharing executive first, linked to a commitment from the IRA to join the decommissioning process.

It was a major gamble by Mr Trimble and many unionists spoke out against forming an executive before the IRA began decommissioning. But Mr Trimble won the backing he needed at an historic meeting of the Ulster Unionist council on November 27, 1999, when members voted 480 to 349 in favour of the plan.

It seemed to be a decisive step, and as Mr Trimble observed to Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams: "We have done our bit. Mr Adams, it is over to you. We have jumped, you follow."

When the IRA refused to jump by handing over any of its weapons three months later, however, Mr Trimble declared that his party could no longer continue in government with Sinn Fein. This led to the suspension of the executive.

By May 2000, Mr Trimble was back in government after a complicated sequence of statements and deals led to him agreeing to return as the IRA, for the first time in its history, opened up some of its arms dumps for independent inspection.

But it has not proved enough for Mr Trimble’s critics inside and outside of the party. Shortly before the 2001 general election, Mr Trimble announced that he would quit as first minister by July 1 if there had been no IRA decommissioning.

The ultimatum was designed to shore up support within his party and head-off the challenge of the anti-agreement Democratic Unionists. But the tactic failed and the UUP party was severely damaged at the polls - and ultimately so was Mr Trimble.


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