Northern Ireland: Death of David Trimble, Protestant ‘hawk’ turned peacemaker

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Réforme editorial office with AFP

On July 25, at the age of 77, the former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, David Trimble, who fought for the reconciliation of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, died.

He is remembered. A former extremist “hawk” turned moderate pragmatist, former Northern Ireland Prime Minister David Trimble, who died on Monday, July 25, aged 77, was one of the architects of the difficult reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, noted Nobel Peace Prize. This Protestant lawyer, who entered politics in the early 1970s in the ranks of the militant-affiliated Vanguard unionist party, helped forge the Good Friday peace agreement with the late Catholic John Hume, a co-Nobel laureate, a quarter of a century later. .

David Trimble led the first power-sharing government to emerge from the deal, which ended three decades of bloody clashes between nationalist republicans (mainly Catholic), who favored Irish reunification, and unionist loyalists (mainly Protestant), who defended the British crown. . He was a skilled tightrope walker, as his journalist and biographer Andrew Roth described, “between extreme Protestant fanaticism and a moderate center“. He died “after a short illness“, his family announced.


William David Trimble was born on October 15, 1944 in a middle-class family in Bangor, in the eastern part of the British province of Northern Ireland. With a studious temperament, he earned a law degree in 1968 from King’s College Belfast, where he later taught. Ironically, this big Elvis Presley fan had long posed as a fervent anti-Catholic hardliner, contributing to the failure of peace efforts. In 1974 he was with those who protested against the Sunningdale Agreement, the first draft of a political settlement of the Northern Irish question. In 1985 he opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, another failed attempt.

After associating with Vanguard extremists, David Trimble joined the Ulster Unionist Party (UPP) in 1978, which he led in 1995, five years after his first term as a member of the British Parliament in London. The election of this prominent member of the Orange Order, the most powerful Protestant brotherhood in the province, as UPP chairman, on a very strong platform, seems to make any negotiation with the opposite party impossible. “Trimble was perceived by nationalists as (…) a bad and hot-tempered unionist with a typical hard mentality”emphasized in 1999 by the British daily newspaper The Guardian.


But Trimble prevents this, carefully sitting down at the negotiating table, with unsuspected pragmatism and political acumen. In the autumn of 1997, after the Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire, he became the first unionist leader to open a dialogue with Sinn Féin republicans, the political branch of the IRA, even though its frontman Gerry Adams “the most horrible person he had ever met“. When the peace agreement was signed, after months of intense debate, he spared no effort to persuade Unionists, who had been clamoring for betrayal, to accept the historic compromise.

Three years after marching hand-in-hand with fundamentalist Ian Paisley during the Orange March, David Trimble shakes hands with Irish singer Bono (U2) and John Hume at a peace concert in Belfast that will help win a Yes vote in the deal referendum Good Friday. But peace is not a long calm river, and the distribution of power turns out to be difficult. The disarmament of the IRA, which came into force in 2005, led to the suspension of the regional bodies four times, until they were completely suspended in October 2002 for five years following allegations of espionage against members of Sinn Féin.

In 2005, David Trimble suffered a crushing defeat in the parliamentary elections in Great Britain. He then joined the Conservative Party and the House of Lords. In 2019, the Brexiteer and father-of-four admitted in the upper house that he had rethought his opposition to same-sex marriage following the union of his eldest daughter with his partner, a new sign of his pragmatism in the face of evolution. stories.

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