David Trimble, Northern Ireland’s first First Minister and a key figure in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, has died aged 77 after a short illness. 

“It is with great sadness that the family of Lord Trimble announce that he passed away peacefully earlier today following a short illness,” a statement to the press read. 

As leader of the Ulster Unionist party during the peace negotiations, Lord Trimble was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with the SDLP’s John Hume and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was fulsome in his praise: 

“I think history will remember him as a politician who, in a really difficult time, when we were trying to end 30 years of violence, in spite of everything, stood up and put his name to that agreement,” Mr Ahern said. 

“That allowed us to bring peace to Northern Ireland and allowed us to progress.”

KF1C6K United States President Bill Clinton meets with Ulster Unionist Party Leader David Trimble at the White House in Washington, DC on October 7, 1993 Mandatory Credit: Robert McNeely/White House via CNP – NO WIRE SERVICE – Photo: Robert Mcneely/Consolidated News Photos/Robert McNeely – White House via CNP

Michelle O’Neill, the province’s First Minister designate, said: 

“His very significant contribution to the peace process and his courage in helping to achieve the Good Friday Agreement leaves a legacy a quarter century on, for which he and his family should be rightly proud.” 

Lord Trimble’s successor as UUP leader, Doug Beattie, praised him as a “political giant, a courageous politician, a staunch unionist and a friend.”. 

“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.”

#LordTrimble – A political giant, a courageous politician, a staunch unionist and a friend. pic.twitter.com/RTVWUAWExe

— Doug Beattie (@BeattieDoug) July 25, 2022

Once a hardliner within the Ulster Unionist Party, Lord Trimble was elected leader in 1995 and steered his party through the complex negotiations with nationalism that led to the Good Friday Agreement. 

However, the peace agreement split unionism – with many upset at the decision to release paramilitary prisoners. 

The presence of Sinn Féin within the northern executive also infuriated many unionist voters and in 2003 Ian Paisley’s more hardline DUP overtook the UUP for the first time in history. 

I am so very sorry to hear of Lord Trimble’s passing this evening. We didn’t always agree, that is a matter of record, but he and I both shared a passion for the Union, something we reflected on when we last met in June at QUB.

— Arlene Foster DBE PC #ProudofNI. (@ArleneFosterUK) July 25, 2022

For the party that had for so long dominated politics in Northern Ireland, it was an earth shattering blow that it never recovered from and in 2005 Trimble even lost his own Upper Bann seat. 

He was elevated to the House of Lords in 2006 and continued to make notable public interventions – backing Brexit in 2016 and revealing in 2019 that he supported gay marriage because his daughter had married her girlfriend.

Main image: David Trimble in 1998. Picture by Alamy.com