Tributes paid to Northern Irish peacemaker David Trimble


LONDON – David Trimble helped end decades of violence in Northern Ireland by eschewing his past as a hard-line trade unionist and negotiating with a former enemy in pursuit of a goal they both shared: peace .

This willingness to compromise was recalled on both sides of the Atlantic on Tuesday as world leaders paid tribute to Trimble, who died Monday at the age of 77.

Trimble shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with John Hume for their work in securing the Good Friday Agreement, which helped end three decades of bloodshed that killed more than 3,000 people in two sides of the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

“Time and time again during the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement, he made difficult rather than politically expedient choices because he believed that future generations deserved to grow up free from violence and hatred,” said former US President Bill Clinton in a statement. . “His faith in the democratic process enabled 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.”

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The deal, brokered with the help of Clinton’s envoy to Northern Ireland, George Mitchell, created a power-sharing government that sought to bridge the gap between Unionists, who support maintaining ties with the United Kingdom, and nationalists, who support reunification with the Republic of Ireland. It also forced both sides to agree to previously unthinkable concessions such as reorganizing pro-union police forces and forcing the Irish Republican Army to give up its arms.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Trimble was brave enough to go through with the deal, even though he knew he would be called a traitor by some in his community.

“It wouldn’t have happened without him; it’s as simple as that, really,” Blair told the BBC. “What he gave, not just during the period of negotiations … but then in the years that followed, was a masterclass in leadership.”

Born William David Trimble in Belfast on October 15, 1944, he was educated at Queen’s University Belfast and pursued an academic career in law before entering politics in the early 1970s as a member of the extremist Vanguard party . After joining the Ulster Unionist Party, he became leader of what was then the largest Unionist Party in 1995.

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Like most Protestant politicians of the time, Trimble initially opposed sharing power with the largely Catholic Republicans as something that would jeopardize Northern Ireland’s union with Britain. At first he refused to speak directly with Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA. But eventually he gave in and in 1997 became the first trade union leader to negotiate with Sinn Fein.

Formal peace talks began the following year, with Trimble and Hume signing the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998.

Trimble was elected Prime Minister in Northern Ireland’s first power-sharing government the same year, with Seamus Mallon of the Social Democratic and Labor Party representing the nationalist community as Deputy Prime Minister.

By accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Trimble encouraged other would-be peacemakers to seek pragmatic solutions and to avoid being “too specific or pedantic.”

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“Heaven knows that in Ulster what I have been looking for is peace in the realms of possibility,” he said. “We could only have started from where we really were, not where we would have liked to be.”

But Trimble paid a huge price for its pragmatism.

There were threats to his security, and eventually he was replaced by more radical politicians who had not supported the peace accord. As he worked to ensure that both sides implemented the terms of the agreement, Trimble was forced to look to his celebrated former adversaries for the concessions they had made.

But he never complained, Blair said.

“The hardest thing in leadership is saying no to your own followers,” Blair said. “It’s easy to say yes to them and it’s easy to say no to your opponents, but to say no to your own supporters is hard. And he did, and he wore it.

In his Nobel Prize speech, Trimble told his audience not to fear the future.

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“The dark shadow we seem to see in the distance is not really a mountain in front of us, but the shadow of the mountain behind – a shadow of the past cast into our future,” he said.

“It’s a black sludge of historic bigotry. We can leave it behind if we want to.”

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