By Sylvia Hui and Jill Lawless | concerned body
LONDON — David Trumbull, the former Northern Ireland prime minister who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending decades of violence in Northern Ireland, has died, the Ulster Unionist Party said Monday. He was 77 years old.
The party said in a statement on behalf of the Trumbull family that the unionist politician died early Monday “after a short illness”.
Trimble, who led the UUP from 1995 to 2005, was a key architect of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of violent conflict in Northern Ireland known as the “Troubles”.
Keir Starmer, leader of Britain’s opposition Labor Party, called Trimble “a towering figure in Northern Ireland and British politics” in a tweet on Monday. Current UUP leader Doug Beattie hailed Trumbull as “a man of courage and vision”, which leaders across the political divide paid tribute to.
The UUP was the largest Protestant Unionist party in Northern Ireland when, under Trimble’s leadership, it agreed the Good Friday Peace Agreement.
Although a staunch unionist when he was younger, Trumbull became a politician whose efforts at compromise were instrumental in bringing unionists and nationalists together in Northern Ireland’s new power-sharing government.
Like most Protestant politicians of the time, Trumbull initially opposed attempts at power-sharing with Catholics that would threaten Northern Ireland’s union with Great Britain. He initially refused to speak directly to Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.
He eventually refused and in 1997 became the first unionist leader to negotiate with Sinn Féin.
Peace talks formally began in 1998 and were overseen by neutral figures such as former US Senator George Mitchell. The results were overwhelmingly endorsed by public referendums in both parts of Ireland.
Trumbull shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with Catholic moderate John Hume, head of the Social Democratic and Labor parties, for their work.
In the same year, Trimble was elected first minister in Northern Ireland’s first power-sharing government, with the SDLP’s Seamus Mellon as deputy first minister.
But both the UUP and SDLP soon found themselves eclipsed by more hardline parties – the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin. Many in Northern Ireland grew weary of Trimble and his colleagues, who seemed too moderate and compromised.
Trumbull struggled to hold his party together as the coalition government was rocked by differences over disarming the IRA and other paramilitary groups. With senior colleagues defecting from the DUP, Trumbull lost his seat in the UK Parliament in 2005 and resigned as party leader shortly afterwards. The following year he was appointed to the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament.
Power-sharing in Northern Ireland has gone through many crises since then – but the peace settlement has largely remained intact.
“The Good Friday Agreement is something that everyone in Northern Ireland has been able to agree to,” Trimble said earlier this year. “It doesn’t mean they agree on everything. There are aspects that some people thought were a mistake, but the bottom line is that it was agreed upon.
William David Trumbull was born in Belfast on 15 October 1944 and educated at Queen’s University, Belfast.
He had an academic career in law before entering politics, and surprised many when he won the UUP leadership in 1995.
Trumbull was not always a popular leader, and his negotiations over the peace treaty drew criticism from elements of his own party.
“David faced enormous challenges when he led the Ulster Unionist Party in the negotiations of the Good Friday Agreement and persuaded his party to sign it,” Adams said in a statement on Monday. “It is to his credit that he supported this deal. I thank him for that.”
“Even though we have fundamentally different political views on the way forward, I believe he was committed to making the peace process work,” Adams added. “David’s contribution to the Good Friday Agreement and the quarter century of relative peace that followed cannot be understated.”
Trumbull is survived by his wife Daphne and children Richard, Victoria, Nicholas and Sarah.