LONDON — David Trimble, a former Protestant arsonist who surprised many by crossing the bloody sectarian divide in his native Northern Ireland and went on to achieve high office, political honors and a Nobel Peace Prize, has died Monday. He was 77 years old.
His death was announced by the Ulster Unionist Party, which he led. A party statement, on behalf of the Trimble family, did not specify where he died or give the cause, saying only that his death occurred after “a short illness”.
Mr Trimble shared the award with John Hume, a former Roman Catholic opponent, after the two men played prominent roles in the American-brokered negotiations that led to the so-called Good Friday Agreement in 1998, officially putting an end to three decades of conflict known as The Troubles which had claimed more than 3,000 lives.
“Trimble, more than any other trade unionist, is responsible for ending the bloodshed that has rocked Northern Ireland for 30 years,” The New York Times said in an editorial in May 2005.
He then became Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in a regional assembly set up under the Good Friday Pact, but which was embroiled in disputes, often over the actions of the Irish Republican Army. underground, which had fought for decades against the British. Army and Protestant paramilitaries.
Mr. Trimble’s political beliefs were rooted in the Unionist desire for close ties between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain. In contrast, his IRA opponents, political wing Sinn Fein, and other Catholic groups fought for a united Ireland. Competing visions of the future have been inspired and deepened by persistent antagonisms and visceral distinctions of faith and ideology.
Mr Trimble’s ties to Britain were such that when he resigned as Prime Minister in 2005 after losing his seat in Britain’s House of Commons, the lower house, he became a peer in the Upper House of Lords, taking the title of Baron Trimble. of Lisnagarvey in County Antrim. He joined the British Conservative Party.
For much of his life, Mr. Trimble pursued a dual career in academia and politics, practicing and teaching law at Queen’s University Belfast.
Some analysts have portrayed him as a shy and reclusive figure, more comfortable in his study listening to operas by Strauss, Verdi and Wagner. Critics said he could appear aloof, clumsy and temperamental, even short-tempered, with what the Times editorial called an “unattractive personality”. But he preferred to portray himself more as a pragmatist, albeit with a dry wit.
“I am personally and perhaps culturally conditioned to be skeptical of talk full of sound and fury, idealistic in intent but impossible to implement; and I resist the kind of rhetoric that substitutes steam for vision,” he said during his Nobel Prize acceptance lecture in December 1998.
He added: “I instinctively identify with the person who said that when he heard a politician talking about his vision, he recommended that he see an optician.”
But, especially in his early years, he was no stranger to the theatrical politics of gesture and defiance.
In 1995, for example, as a member of the British Parliament and the radical Vanguard movement, he teamed up with the Reverend Ian Paisley, a fire-breathing anti-Catholic Protestant cleric, leading an Orange Order group. Protestants marching through a Catholic area of Portadown, west Belfast. Afterwards, he danced a triumph jig with Mr. Paisley to celebrate the running of that particular glove.
Yet in 1998 he met Gerry Adams, the former leader of Sinn Fein, in what would once have been an unthinkable and perilous encounter for a trade union leader.
“He took a political risk by identifying with the process,” said Francis Sejersted, the chairman of the secret Norwegian committee that awards the peace prize. The 1998 Nobel Prize citation said Mr Trimble had shown ‘great political courage when, at a critical stage in the process, he advocated solutions which led to the peace accord’.
The Nobel committee said it hoped the Good Friday Agreement would “inspire peaceful solutions to other religious, ethnic and national conflicts around the world.”
But in his Nobel lecture, Mr Trimble seemed to distance himself from that hope, expressing “some rather serious reservations about the merits of using any conflict, including Northern Ireland, as a model for study, not to mention the solution, other conflicts”. Conflicts.”
“I believe that a sense of the unique, specific and concrete circumstances of any situation is the first essential step in solving the problems posed by this situation,” he said.
William David Trimble was born on October 15, 1944 in Belfast, the son of William and Ivy (Jack) Trimble. His father was “a middle-ranking civil servant in the Department of Labor”, while his mother was a clerk and typist in the same department, according to a 2005 biography of Mr Trimble, “Himself Alone”. He was the second of three children.
As Presbyterians, the Trimble ancestors were a “minority within a minority” of Protestants in Ireland before the partition and creation of Northern Ireland as a Protestant-dominated enclave in 1921.
He grew up in Bangor, Northern Ireland, a seaside resort and suburban town east of Belfast, and attended school there before starting work as a civil servant at the Land Registry of Northern Ireland. He studied law at Queen’s University Belfast and graduated with a rare first-class honors degree, qualifying him to become an assistant lecturer in property law there.
His first marriage, in 1968, was to Heather McComb, who had also worked at the land registry. The couple lost twins at birth. They divorced in 1976. Two years later Mr Trimble married Daphne Elizabeth Orr and they had four children – Richard, Victoria, Nicholas and Sarah. He is survived by his wife and children, British media said.
Increasingly drawn to politics, Mr Trimble held a variety of positions in the 1970s and was first linked to the right-wing avant-garde Progressive Unionist Party, a radical movement linked to a paramilitary group. He actively opposed a previous peace settlement, the short-lived Sunningdale Accord, which was signed in 1973 and collapsed in 1974.
Mr. Trimble’s rise to political power coincided with a period of turmoil and bloodshed. The Troubles took root in the late 1960s. In response, Britain deployed troops and in 1972 reasserted direct power in Northern Ireland. By then, more than 300 people had died in the unrest.
“I would personally draw the line at violence and terrorism, but if we’re talking about a campaign that involves protests and so on, then some amount of violence may be unavoidable,” Mr Trimble said at the time. .
In 1978, when the Vanguard movement disbanded, he joined the Ulster Unionist Party. In 1990 he was elected to the British Parliament in a by-election and resigned from Queen’s University to pursue his political career.
Five years later, just after his parade with Mr Paisley at Portadown, Mr Trimble surprised many analysts when he was elected party leader. Almost immediately, he signaled a desire for communal rapprochement, breaking with decades of antagonism and, courting the ire of Unionist radicals, meeting with Roman Catholic political figures.
As the talks that would eventually culminate in the Good Friday Agreement began, Mr Trimble fought hard to ensure that the Unionists would retain potential veto power in return for sharing power with the Nationalists.
Under the terms of the deal, Mr Trimble became First Minister of Northern Ireland, but his years in office were marred by disputes which caused the suspension of a power-sharing assembly which was to lead a large part of the Government of Northern Ireland.
He went so far as to resign in July 2001 in protest at what he described as the IRA’s intransigence in disarmament. But he was re-elected to power in November.
In 2005, as public opinion changed in Northern Ireland, he lost his parliamentary seat and later resigned as party leader. He was knighted as a British peer the following year.
His voice continued to echo, although less frequently. Ahead of Britain’s departure from the European Union in 2019, he backed Brexit but challenged the Northern Ireland Protocol, an addition to the deal that put Northern Ireland in an ambiguous position between the European Union and the British jurisdiction.
“I personally feel betrayed by this,” Mr Trimble wrote in The Irish Times. “I made enormous personal and political sacrifices to persuade the people of Northern Ireland” of the benefits of the 1998 agreement.
And he added: “Not only do I personally feel betrayed, but the majority Unionist population of Northern Ireland also feels betrayed.”