Former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble has died at age 77, the party has revealed. Pictured with Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern during an unveiling of his portrait by Colin Davidson at Queen's Management School, Riddel Hall, in Belfast in June this year
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Former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble has died at age 77, the party has revealed. 

In a statement on behalf of the Trimble family, the UUP said: ‘It is with great sadness that the family of Lord Trimble announce that he passed away peacefully earlier today following a short illness.’

Trimble and John Hume, former leader of the Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party, jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for their roles in helping end more than 30 years of bloodshed. 

The Co Down man distinguished himself in an academic career in the law faculty at the Queen’s University Belfast before moving into politics.

He initially became involved in the unionist offshoot organisation Vanguard in the early 1970s and while he was best known for his involvement with the Belfast Agreement, in his younger days he had opposed an earlier attempt, the Sunningdale Agreement.

He went on to join the then dominant Ulster Unionist Party in 1978.

Former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble has died at age 77, the party has revealed. Pictured with Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern during an unveiling of his portrait by Colin Davidson at Queen's Management School, Riddel Hall, in Belfast in June this year

Former Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble has died at age 77, the party has revealed. Pictured with Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern during an unveiling of his portrait by Colin Davidson at Queen’s Management School, Riddel Hall, in Belfast in June this year

Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble (L), US President Bill Clinton (C), Deputy First minister Seamus Mallon (C) and British Prime Minister Tony Blair (R) stand on the steps of Stormont parliamentary buildings in Northern Ireland on December 13, 2000

Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble (L), US President Bill Clinton (C), Deputy First minister Seamus Mallon (C) and British Prime Minister Tony Blair (R) stand on the steps of Stormont parliamentary buildings in Northern Ireland on December 13, 2000

Irish rock band U2's lead singer Bono (C) holds up the arms of Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble (L) and SDLP leader John Hume (R) on stage during a concert given by U2 and Ash at the Waterfront concert hall to promote the yes vote for Friday's peace referendum

Irish rock band U2’s lead singer Bono (C) holds up the arms of Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble (L) and SDLP leader John Hume (R) on stage during a concert given by U2 and Ash at the Waterfront concert hall to promote the yes vote for Friday’s peace referendum

It was at the university in 1983 that he heard the IRA’s gunshots which killed his fellow law professor and UUP colleague Edgar Graham and later identified the body.

He left academia for politics full time when he was elected as MP for Upper Bann following a by-election in 1990 after the death of the incumbent Harold McCusker.

Lord Trimble rose to prominence partly due to the Drumcree dispute as nationalist residents opposed the procession of an orange parade along the Garvaghy Road.

He led the parade along the road in 1995, famously joining hands with Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley.

A few months later, Lord Trimble unexpectedly won the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party over the favourite Lord Kilclooney, starting his often turbulent time at the helm of the party.

He marked a number of firsts as Ulster Unionist leader, including becoming the party’s first leader in 30 years to meet with the Irish premier in Dublin and in 1997 he became the first unionist leader since partition to negotiate with Sinn Fein.

The peace talks, which started formally in 1998 under the chairmanship of former US senator George Mitchell, saw many nights of intensive negotiation pressed on by then prime minister Tony Blair, taoiseach Bertie Ahern and then US president Bill Clinton.

The process faltered several times but perhaps most notably when then Ulster Unionist Jeffrey Donaldson walked out of the talks.

Trimble arrives with his wife Daphne at his polling station in Norther Ireland on June 25, 1998

Trimble arrives with his wife Daphne at his polling station in Norther Ireland on June 25, 1998

Trimble and John Hume (right), former leader of the Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party, jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for their roles in helping end more than 30 years of bloodshed

Trimble and John Hume (right), former leader of the Catholic Social Democratic and Labour Party, jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for their roles in helping end more than 30 years of bloodshed

Trimble (left) and American politician US President Bill Clinton (right) talk together at the White House, Washington DC, on October 7, 1993

Trimble (left) and American politician US President Bill Clinton (right) talk together at the White House, Washington DC, on October 7, 1993

However on April 10, 1998, the agreement was signed, and endorsed following a referendum held the following month.

Lord Trimble become the first first minister of Northern Ireland to be elected on July 1, 1998, alongside SDLP deputy leader Seamus Mallon as deputy First Minister.

But the path of devolved government was far from smooth for the two men, with the issue of the paramilitary groups decommissioning overshadowing Stormont.

Lord Trimble also struggled with internal divisions within his party which saw Mr Donaldson, along with fellow future DUP leader Arlene Foster and Norah Beare, resigning in December 2003.

Lord Trimble lost his Westminster seat in Upper Bann at the 2005 election to DUP candidate David Simpson.

He resigned as leader of the party whose once dominant Westminster representation had been reduced to just one seat.

He was made a life peer the following year and later took up his seat in the House of Lords as a member of the Conservative Party to have, he said, great influence on UK politics.

While generally socially conservative in outlook, Lord Trimble admitted in July 2019 that he had changed his position on equal marriage after his daughter Victoria married her girlfriend in 2017.

Trimble at the Conservative Party Conference in 1999

Trimble at the Conservative Party Conference in 1999

Trimble with his wife Daphne in Lisburn Co Antrim in 2004

Trimble with his wife Daphne in Lisburn Co Antrim in 2004

Hume (L) gives the thumbs up as fellow Laureat David Trimble waves as they leave the Nobel Institute in Oslo on December 9, 1998

Hume (L) gives the thumbs up as fellow Laureat David Trimble waves as they leave the Nobel Institute in Oslo on December 9, 1998

Trimble holds a press conference at an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement at Queens university on April 10, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Trimble holds a press conference at an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement at Queens university on April 10, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Lord Trimble’s final public appearance came at the end of June at the unveiling of a portrait of him by artist Colin Davidson at the Queen’s University.

He then reflected on the approach of the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, and pointed out it has survived despite the objections.

‘The Good Friday Agreement is something which everybody in Northern Ireland has been able to agree with, it doesn’t mean they agree with everything, there are aspects which some people thought were a mistake, but the basic thing is that this was agreed, he said.

‘That is there. People are actually not throwing the agreement to pieces, their complaints are still based on the existence of the agreement.

‘They are not saying “throw it out”, so that’s the thing to bear in mind.’

He was also sharply critical of the UK government over Brexit trade arrangements.

Lord Trimble is survived by his wife Daphne and sons and daughters, Richard, Victoria, Nicholas and Sarah.

UUP leader Doug Beattie paid tribute to Lord Trimble saying his death would cause ‘deep sadness’ throughout Northern Ireland and much further afield.

Queen Elizabeth II greets Trimble at Buckingham Palace, London, during a special reception paying tribute to the contribution of more than 400 pioneers in British life

Queen Elizabeth II greets Trimble at Buckingham Palace, London, during a special reception paying tribute to the contribution of more than 400 pioneers in British life

Trimble (right) and Seamus Mallon at Dublin City University where they received honorary degrees in recognition of their key contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process

Trimble (right) and Seamus Mallon at Dublin City University where they received honorary degrees in recognition of their key contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process

(L-R) Jonathan Powell, Monica McWilliams, Lord John Alderdice, Seamus Mallon, Lord David Trimble, Bertie Ahern, Sir Reg Empey, Senator George J. Mitchell, Paul Murphy and Gerry Adams pose for a photo on the 20th Anniversary of the signing of The Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 2018 in Belfast

(L-R) Jonathan Powell, Monica McWilliams, Lord John Alderdice, Seamus Mallon, Lord David Trimble, Bertie Ahern, Sir Reg Empey, Senator George J. Mitchell, Paul Murphy and Gerry Adams pose for a photo on the 20th Anniversary of the signing of The Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 2018 in Belfast

Mr Beattie said: ‘David Trimble was a man of courage and vision. He chose to grasp the opportunity for peace when it presented itself and sought to end the decades of violence that blighted his beloved Northern Ireland.

‘He will forever be associated with the leadership he demonstrated in the negotiations that led up to the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

‘The bravery and courage he demonstrated whilst battling his recent illness was typical of the qualities he showed in his political career, at Stormont and at Westminster.

‘He will be remembered as a First Minister, as a peer of the realm and as a Nobel Prize winner. He will also be remembered as a great Unionist.

‘On behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party, and with a very heavy heart, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to his wife Lady Trimble and his children, Richard, Victoria, Sarah and Nicholas.’

Brandon Lewis, who resigned as Northern Ireland secretary earlier this month, tweeted: ‘Incredibly sad news that David Trimble has died. A brilliant statesman and dedicated public servant, his legacy as an architect of the Good Friday Agreement will live on forever. 

‘The people of the UK owe him an immense debt of gratitude for all he achieved for our Union.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: ‘Very sad news. David Trimble was a towering figure of Northern Ireland and British politics as one of the key authors of the Good Friday Agreement, the first First Minister and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. My thoughts are with Lady Trimble and their family.’

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