Northern Ireland’s inaugural First Minister died yesterday, prompting admiring words from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland, Britain and from around the world. The Nobel prize winner helped to steer his party and his nation towards a peace settlement in Northern Ireland which, while at times fragile, is a singular achievement for Northern Ireland, Ireland, Britain and indeed, the world.
Good Friday Agreement
Lord Trimble’s signature achievement was to lead his party and then Northern Ireland as a whole to accept the Good Friday Agreement which ended much of the violence which had plagued Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
The internationally renowned agreement was the result of a peace process that began in the early 1990s which required first political concessions, then ceasefires, then long negotiations between actors at all levels, international, national and subnational to achieve a peace which at the time often looked impossible.
The result was a compromise which though many would criticise as far from perfect has endured for almost 25 years.
Lord Trimble and John Hume, the leader of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party in Northern Ireland, who died in 2020, jointly received the Nobel Peace in 1998 in recognition of their contributions to the creation of what was then a new peace.
“Time after time during the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement, he made the hard choices over the politically expedient ones because he believed future generations deserved to grow up free from violence and hatred.
His faith in the democratic process allowed 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. His legacy will endure in all who are living better lives because of him today.”Former US President Bill Clinton
“Once he said he would do something, he did it, that was absolutely invaluable to the trust needed to make the process work.”
Former Prime Minister Sir Tony Blair
“David’s contribution to the Good Friday Agreement and to the quarter century of relative peace that followed cannot be underestimated”
Former Leader of Sinn Fein Gerry Adams
“When David Trimble became leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, he made a critical contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process.
“He shed his former opposition to the process, and became an innovative advocate for a peaceful settlement.
“He thoroughly merits an honourable place amongst peacemakers.”
Former Prime Minister Sir John Major
“a giant of British and international politics
“[He] will be long remembered for his intellect, personal bravery and fierce determination to change politics for the better”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
“[Lord Trimble played] a crucial and courageous role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland”.
Taoiseach of Ireland Micheál Martin
The Northern Irish peace process was a complex culmination of many complex historical forces. It defies simple summaries or explanations as Lord Trimble well understood. The different leaders and sides to this day debate what the peace process means, criticise its imperfections and question whether it can be replaced with something better. As the Troubles fade into memory there is a danger that political priorities will change and that the fragile peace will again broken.
It is important to remember that the achievement of peace in Northern Ireland was a heroic act of prioritisation. Throughout the process, leaders put their other concerns aside and prioritised peace above all else.
It is essential that despite almost a quarter century of relative peace that across the political spectrum, in Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland that the urgency of prioritising peace is not lost.
Photo Credit: Steve Punter