David Trimble, the unionist leader credited with helping to broker the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland, has died.

The health of the former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party had been declining for some time.

One of his last public appearances was at the end of June 2022, when he attended the unveiling of his portrait by the famous Northern Irish artist Colin Davidson.

Tributes were paid during the evening by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former US President Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who were involved in the negotiations that led to the historic agreement.

David Trimble’s portrait was unveiled earlier this year

She sought to end three decades of violence in Northern Ireland by agreeing a new power-sharing arrangement for Northern Ireland, as well as a number of cross-border institutions, along with improved British-Irish relations.

The key to the deal was an amendment to the Irish Constitution that abolished constitutional claims to the entire island. It was replaced by the desire for unity, but only with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.

Controversially, the agreement also included the release of paramilitary prisoners and proposals to reform and rename the then Royal Ulster Constabulary.

At first glance, Mr. Trimble must have seemed an unlikely ally in the search for political compromise.

Once a hard-liner, in the 1970s he was a member of the Vanguard movement, which sought to combine trade union politics and loyalist paramilitarism.

Tony Blair, David Trimble and Bill Clinton

But the former Queen’s University law lecturer was also a pragmatist who at one time favored voluntary power-sharing with the nationalists – something that put an end to his earlier political ambitions.

So he was a surprise choice for leader in 1995 and won with the support of the Orange Order.

The early years of his leadership coincided with the so-called Drumcree protest, a bitter parliamentary dispute in Portadown, Armagh, in which he played a major role.

The image of him walking through a phalanx of Orangemen in the town, arm in arm with then DUP leader Iain Paisley after the parade was allowed through a nationalist zone, hardened the relationship of residents in the difficult years that followed.

The IRA ceasefire created an impetus for political dialogue, and as the leader of the then largest unionist party, Mr Trimble had no choice but to get involved.

In his latest interview, he described how, from his perspective, the Good Friday Agreement – or the Belfast Agreement as he preferred to call it – was broken during a long meeting with the Irish government that lasted into the early hours.

David Trimble at the 1998 UUP Party Conference

He said he tried to hide the fact that the proposals in his proposal were his final and he was ready to sign.

“Fortunately, my opposition didn’t pick up on the fact that this was an agreement that I was quietly buying myself to stick to,” he told RTÉ News.

“I soaped it up gently in case someone grabbed it and started screaming.”

The referendum that approved the Good Friday Agreement was a political culmination.

The Bono singer invited Mr Trimble and John Hume on stage at a ‘yes’ concert in Belfast and raised their hands.

Bono holds the hands of David Trimble and John Hume

For peacemaking, they received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.

Both could expect to be rewarded by voters for their efforts.

But the years since the agreement have been fraught with controversy over things like decommissioning the IRA and reforming the RUC.

Gradually Sinn Féin and the DUP overtook the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists.

David Trimble’s personal political fortunes also began to decline. In 2005, he lost his Upper Ben-Westminster seat when his party’s support finally collapsed.

This was effectively the end of his political career.

David Trimble speaks to the media after attending a meeting with then Prime Minister Bertie Ahern

The following year he received the peerage, taking the title of Lord Trimble of Lisnagarvie.

A shy man with a reputation as a sometimes difficult interviewer, he considered the 1998 agreement the pinnacle of his political career.

In his latest interview, when asked if this was his greatest achievement, he gave a typically phlegmatic response.

“Well, I can’t think of anything better than that,” he said.

At the unveiling of his portrait at Queen’s University in June, his political colleagues were far more emotional.

Bill Clinton sent a video message in which he praised his tenacity in the pursuit of peace.

“Of all the tributes I can pay you, the greatest testament to your work is the fact that today a generation in Belfast and across Northern Ireland is growing up beyond the shadow of hatred and violence.”

Former Daoist Bertie Ahern, with whom Mr Trimble had a real warm encounter that night, put it much more simply.

“He never blinked. There were those who were against him. But I admired him.”

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