I was touring the Alps with the amazing tour rider Paul Kimmage. We had driven 14 miles up the infamous Col du Glandon, a narrow mountain road with steep drops where a wobble could mean death.
As Paul disappeared over the crest of the mountain, he yelled over his shoulder – “Don’t pull the brakes” – before hurtling down the narrow path at a frightening speed.
I thought of him when I heard of David Trimble’s death.
His lordship, it’s fair to say, surprised us. In 1995, Garvaghy Road residents began a sit-in protest to block an Orange March.
The RUC stopped the protesters. A stalemate began, loyalists poured into the area from all over the north, and major riots broke out as they attempted to break through the police blockade. After two days, the residents agreed to leave and the march continued.
The lasting image was of Ian Paisley and David Trimble, hands clasped and arms raised in triumph.
It was a sickening blow to the nationalist community. A symbol of continued union supremacy.
Two months later, Trimble gained leadership of the UUP. More of it, we groaned. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
By 1998, Sinn Féin, the IRA, the British government and the main loyalist factions wanted peace. The problem was that they had no one on the union side to make peace with.
Amazingly, Trimble appeared, saying things we had never heard from a unionized politician. “Ulster unionists, afraid of being isolated on the island, built a solid house, but it was a cold house for Catholics.”
It was extraordinary, new and unexpected for us. And boy did the union movement hate him for it. Jeffrey Donaldson turned down the talks and moved to the DUP. Arlene Foster followed suit.
He was branded a Lundy, a traitor, a defector. He was placed under strict protection by the police. His life seemed unbearable and he was being hounded and shouted at everywhere. Before a public meeting, DUP leaders – Peter and Iris Robinson, Paisley and others – goaded, taunted and blocked his path.
A lesser man would have buckled. I was fascinated by David Trimble then and I am still fascinated by him today.
I suppose this clumsy, highly intelligent man was obsessed with extreme stubbornness.
We would call it “Thranness”. The more he was abused, the more he blossomed. This instinctive, old-school unionist was intellectually attracted to the possibility of peace, and even when the unionist family left him, he said “F*** them” and plowed on.
His advisor at the time, David Kerr, said: “He was unwavering. From the moment he decided to go through with the deal in April 1998, there was no turning back. Those who were not with him were against him. He didn’t hang around trying to coax or coddle people. His approach was: “Yes, there are things that we don’t like, but we have to deal with them. This is our only chance to break this cycle of violence’.”
UTV this week showed footage of Trimble at a public meeting in Tyrone evangelizing for the agreement. He was ushered in by the protesters’ gauntlet. Once inside, the atmosphere was angry and intense.
One angry man said: “I will never sit down with a Sinn Féin man, today, tomorrow or in 30 years.”
David, cool as a cucumber, stood up, paused and said, “Well then you’ve got a problem. We are at a very important point in our history. This is no time for windy rhetoric, for false prospects or false hopes. Anyone who thinks that the unionist people can impose their will on the people of Northern Ireland, the British government and world opinion in 1998 is mistaken. We have to take nationalists with us. There is no alternative.”
He then had to run out of the hall surrounded by police officers as the mob approached. One must respect the man’s cojones.
He made the deal. The DUP used it to destroy him (as he suspected) and to this day they are in destroy mode. But as Trimble knew, the deal was the right one. Immobile, permanent, unbreakable. Because of this, there are countless deaths, and northern society is rapidly turning into a pluralistic, peaceful, and comfortable society.
Lord Trimble was an essentially decent man. When Martin McGuinness fell ill, he wrote him a generous and elegant letter, thanking him for “reaching out to the union community in a way that some of you have been reluctant to approach you” and mentioning him as “vital” to peace and congratulate him warmly on his historic meeting with Queen Elizabeth.
He lived quietly alongside my friends the McGraths. They were amused to see his lordship mowing the lawn in a shirt and tie. His great passion was navigating the canals of Great Britain in his flatboat.
The guard‘s Martin Kettle wrote last week that when he last saw him, he and Daphne were sitting on their barge sipping white wine, which was moored alongside the newspaper’s offices in London. It’s a poignant image that will stay with me.
He toiled a mountain of bigotry, and when he reached the top he didn’t hit the brakes.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/david-trimble-had-cojones-he-said-things-other-unionists-wouldnt-dare-41879434.html David Trimble had cojones – he said things other unionists wouldn’t dare