Former US president Bill Clinton has paid tribute to former first minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble by stating his “lifetime of service” helped bring peace to Northern Ireland.
Mr Trimble (77) — a native of Bangor, Co Down — started his career teaching law at Queen’s University in Belfast in the 1970s. He was the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) from 1995 until 2005.
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Mr Trimble played a central role in the Belfast Agreement negotiations and was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with former SDLP leader John Hume for their achievements in brokering the historic peace deal.
A statement issued on behalf of Mr Trimble’s family on Monday evening said: “It is with great sadness that the family of Lord Trimble announce that he passed away peacefully earlier today following a short illness”.
In a statement, Mr Clinton said: “Hillary and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Lord David Trimble, a leader of courage, vision, and principle whose lifetime of service helped bring peace to Northern Ireland.
“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,” the Clinton statement said.
“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.
“Hillary and I send our thoughts and prayers to his wife, Daphne, his entire family, and all the people who loved him and were inspired by his service,” the statement said.
[ Bertie Ahern: David Trimble’s brave stance on Belfast Agreement is his lasting legacy ]
Former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, a once bitter political adversary of the unionist leader, thanked him for helping to get the Belfast Agreement over the line in 1998.
“David faced huge challenges when he led the Ulster Unionist Party in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations and persuaded his party to sign on for it. It is to his credit that he supported that Agreement. I thank him for that.
“In the years immediately following the Agreement I met David many times. Our conversations were not always easy but we made progress. We used to meet quite often on our own and I got to know him quite well. While we held fundamentally different political opinions on the way forward nonetheless I believe he was committed to making the peace process work,” Mr Adams said.
“David’s contribution to the Good Friday Agreement and to the quarter century of relative peace that followed cannot be underestimated.”
President Michael D Higgins also paid tribute to Mr Trimble, saying he would be remembered for his “most significant contribution to the work for peace on our island”.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was “deeply saddened” at the passing of Mr Trimble who he described as “someone who played a crucial and courageous role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. My sympathies and condolences go to all of his family, friends and colleagues.”
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson described Mr Trimble as a “titan of unionism”. Mr Donaldson quit the Ulster Unionist Party in 2003 and defected to the DUP after he disagreed with his-then party leader over the Belfast Agreement and IRA decommissioning.
But he told the BBC Good Morning Ulster programme: “There is no doubt that David was a titan of unionism.
“He was someone who believed passionately in the union, and I have to say that despite our differences in the latter years when I was in the Ulster Unionist Party, he was someone I got on very well with.”
[ David Trimble obituary: A man whose willingness to change course helped pave the way for peace ]
On Monday evening, British prime minister Boris Johnson said Mr Trimble’s achievements would never be forgotten. “He was a giant of British and international politics and will be long remembered for his intellect, personal bravery and fierce determination to change politics for the better,” he said.
Former UK prime minister Tony Blair and former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, both of whom were involved in the intensive Belfast Agreement negotiations, also paid tribute.
Mr Blair said Mr Trimble’s contribution was “immense, unforgettable and frankly irreplaceable”, while Mr Ahern described him as a “courageous” leader.
Sinn Féin’s leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, said: “David Trimble’s very significant contribution to the peace process and his courage in helping achieve the Good Friday Agreement leaves a legacy a quarter century on which he and his family can be rightly proud of.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Trimble has left an “indelible mark on our shared island’s story”.
Current UUP leader Doug Beattie hailed the former first minister as “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 said. — PA