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Monday, 19 March, 2001, 17:40 GMT
David Trimble: UUP leader

By BBC NI political correspondent
Mark Simpson

When the news broke that David Trimble had just been elected Ulster Unionist leader in 1995, many feared it marked the end of the peace process.

"I nearly choked on my cornflakes," one minister later remarked.

Three years later, Mr Trimble was in Oslo picking up a Nobel Peace Prize.

He went on to become the first minister of the new Northern Ireland Executive a post he threatens to resign from on 1 July unless the IRA decommissions.


Tough battles continue in unionism
Although seen initially as a hardliner, Mr Trimble proved his critics wrong and agreed to an historic compromise - the Good Friday Agreement.

He may have confounded one set of critics, but his decision to cut a deal with nationalists and republicans meant he quickly created another set of critics - within his own unionist community.

To Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists, Trimble is regarded as a traitor.

They would take great pleasure in snatching his Westminster seat at the general election and have dismissed his tough words about resignation as an election stunt.

Nobel peace prize

Mr Trimble has held the Upper Bann constituency since 1990.

He has always enjoyed a comfortable majority.

He won the 1990 by-election by almost 14,000 votes and although his majority was down to 9,000 in 1997, his hold on the seat has always seemed firm.


To Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists Trimble is regarded as a traitor

Mark Simpson
But in the 1998 Assembly election - after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement - anti-agreement unionists in the constituency almost polled as many votes as the Ulster Unionist Party.

That means Mr Trimble can take nothing for granted when he faces the electorate again in Upper Bann.

It could be a tough battle, but Mr Trimble is used to having a political fight on his hands.

Ever since he signed the agreement, he has faced a struggle to hold on to the party leadership.

Last year the Reverend Martin Smyth MP, a former head of the Orange Order, challenged him for the job - and won 43% of the vote.

Mr Trimble survived, but only just.

He needs a good result in the general election to secure his position.


Role on the world stage as first minister
Although he is seen as a moderate in the eyes of the international world, following his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize, his political roots are in the hardline Vanguard movement in the early 1970s.

Before becoming a full-time politician, he was a law lecturer at Queen's University, and given his legal background it is no surprise that in politics, he is renowned for his attention to detail.

He doesn't have much spare time, as he juggles his jobs as an MP, party leader and Northern Ireland's First Minister, but he is a keen opera-goer.

He has a particular liking for Wagner and - believe it or not - is also an Elvis fan.

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Related stories:

01 Mar 01 |  Northern Ireland
Key players in the peace process
27 Oct 00 |  Northern Ireland
Profile: David Trimble
28 Oct 00 |  Northern Ireland
Trimble hardens arms stance
22 Sep 00 |  Northern Ireland
Where now for David Trimble?
23 Mar 00 |  Northern Ireland
Trimble faces leadership fight
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