'He had to fight for every inch of ground' - reflections on legacy of David Trimble

Former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has been praised as a peacemaker who saved lives.

Those who worked closely with him say he was willing to make the hard choices for peace.

"David had to fight for every inch of ground" said Trimble's long-time colleague Lord Empey.

"And it's something for which the people of Northern Ireland, will I hope, be grateful.

"I think there are large numbers of people walking around Northern Ireland today who'd otherwise be in their graves had he not taken the decisions that he took."

David Trimble experienced the Troubles first hand. He was close by when fellow law professor Edgar Graham was shot dead by the IRA at Queen's University.  Shortly afterwards he stepped into politics.

The Drumcree stand-off was seminal in his career. His former special advisor David Kerr believes that "there's no question that Drumcree led to David Trimble becoming the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party".

As Ulster Unionist leader he broke new ground. He became the first Unionist leader in 30 years to meet the Taoiseach in Dublin.  

But it was his dogged determination during the Good Friday negotiations where he came into his own.

"He wasn't simply somebody who was looking only for the next election or the next vote," Lord Empey said of the late Unionist leader, "he thought strategically."

"I believe his role in reaching that agreement has been underestimated and undervalued."

The pressure on David Trimble was intense. After brokering the deal he had to face a series of crucial meetings within the 800-plus Ulster Unionist Council.

Selling decommissioning, prisoner reforms and police reform to his party all required significant leadership.

"It wasn't a happy-clappy, people gathering outside Stormont House to applaud the agreement at all," says historian and former adviser to Lord Trimble, Lord Bew.

"It was tough travelling, hard yards all the way."

Despite the immense challenges, David Trimble is already recognised as a significant peacemaker.  

Artist Colin Davidson who recently captured him in a portrait which hangs at Queens said "he needs to have his place as far as history is concerned", alongside "John Hume and Bill Clinton" in the "pantheon of the greats" of peace in Northern Ireland.

David Trimble’s great hope was for a normal, peaceful Northern Ireland.  Those closest to him say he gave up so much to achieve that and now hope his final legacy will be peace.

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