David Trimble: Funeral ‘showed the progress that has been made’

The crisis-hit Stormont Assembly has reconvened for a special sitting to pay tribute to David Trimble, one of the principal architects of the devolved institutions in Belfast.

By PA Reporters
Wednesday, 3rd August 2022, 7:14 am
Updated Wednesday, 3rd August 2022, 7:20 am

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party died last week at the age of 77 following an illness.

He was buried on Monday after a funeral service that was attended by dignitaries including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Irish President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Micheal Martin.

The power-sharing structures Lord Trimble helped create in the landmark Good Friday Agreement of 1998 are currently in limbo, with the DUP blocking the creation of a governing executive in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

(left to right) DUP MLA Joanna Bunting, Clerk/Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Assembly Lesley Hogg, Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O'Neill and UUP leader Doug Beattie MLA look on as the Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey writes a message in the book of condolence, in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings at Stormont for former Northern Ireland First Minister and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Lord David Trimble, who died last week aged 77

The DUP’s refusal to agree to the nomination of a new speaker has also prevented the reconstitution of the Assembly following May’s election.

Despite the impasse, party whips agreed to hold a special gathering in the chamber of Parliament Buildings yesterday to allow for tributes to be paid to Lord Trimble.

Current UUP leader Doug Beattie said it could be difficult for the current generation of MLAs to fully understand the impact the unionist statesman had on Northern Ireland politics.

Stormont’s inaugural first minister was jointly awarded the Nobel prize with late SDLP leader John Hume in recognition of their efforts to end the Troubles and establish a power-sharing system of devolved governance in the Province.

Mr Beattie said that before 1998 unionists and nationalists would not be seen in the same room together, “never mind share a handshake or form a government with joint responsibilities”.

He contrasted that to scenes at Monday’s funeral where political leaders from across the divide came together.

“At David’s humble and dignified funeral, handshakes and pats on the shoulder were offered freely from every political corner with warm words of condolence – that’s progress,” he said.

The sitting saw MLAs on opposing sides of the protocol debate reference Lord Trimble’s legacy as they stressed a desire for power-sharing to return.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said it would be a “travesty” if the institutions were not restored before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement next year.

“History will be kind to David Trimble for the huge part he played, but it will be unforgiving to those of you who obstruct progress or refuse to show leadership,” she said.

“What was achieved by David Trimble together with the leaders of nationalism and republicanism, the Irish and British governments, the United States and the EU cannot be underestimated. It can never be taken for granted.

“He and all of them leave a legacy for which any politician would be rightly proud.

“The Good Friday Agreement is a gift to today’s generation and its promise must be fully realised.

“I stand here today as a leader of the Good Friday Agreement generation, and I want to lead and work with you all and those whom you represent.

“Anyone who sets out to undermine this work and turns this place upside down should not be in politics.”

However, DUP veteran Edwin Poots highlighted Lord Trimble’s opposition to the protocol and how he maintained it was inconsistent with the Belfast Agreement.

He quoted from a newspaper article in which the former UUP leader claimed the protocol was pulling the Good Friday Agreement apart.

“I think we’d do well to listen to the words of David Trimble over the course of the next number of weeks,” Mr Poots told the Assembly.

“And I trust that we do get this Executive up and running, I trust that we will ensure the peace that exists in Northern Ireland over the course of the last 25 years is something which exists for many years to come, and that we give the political leadership in doing that.”

At the conclusion of the tributes, MLAs held a minute’s silence for the late peer in the Assembly chamber before moving to the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings to sign a book of condolence.

A picture of Lord Trimble was placed on a table in the hall with a floral tribute.

MLAs formed a long line extending out from the Assembly chamber as they waited to add their signatures.

Speaking after the tributes in the chamber, the leader of the Opposition at Stormont Matthew O’Toole called on the DUP to abandon its boycott of the Executive and to elect a speaker to the Assembly today.

The SDLP MLA accused the DUP of holding thousands of families struggling with the cost-of-living crisis to “ransom for the last 90 days”.

He said: “The excuses about the NI Protocol Bill have evaporated now that the legislation has passed its Commons stages.”