David Trimble (1944- ) is a Unionist politician prominent in Northern Ireland’s peace process and its post-1998 government. He was born William David Trimble to middle class Presbyterian parents in Bangor, just outside Belfast. An outstanding student, he graduated from Queen’s University with a law degree in 1968. Trimble then completed postgraduate studies and returned to Queen’s as a lecturer, a position he held for 12 years. He was also active in hardline Unionist politics during the 1970s. In 1973 Trimble joined the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party (VUPP), or Ulster Vanguard, a Loyalist group with neo-fascist trappings and close ties with paramilitary groups. Trimble served as deputy leader of the Ulster Vanguard for a brief period, opposing the Sunningdale Agreement.
When the VUPP was dissolved in 1978 Trimble became a member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). He held several party leadership and administration roles during the 1980s. In February 1990 Trimble was elected to the British House of Commons, in a by-election for the seat of Upper Bann. Five years later he was elected UUP party leader. Trimble was known for his strident and outspoken Loyalism in public. In 1995 he courted controversy by joining Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley on an Orange Order march through Catholic areas of Portadown, a march that triggered police action and some violence. Behind the scenes, however, Trimble demonstrated a willingness to engage and negotiate. In late 1995 he met with Irish taoiseach John Bruton in Dublin. In 1997 he became the first Unionist leader in 75 years to hold talks with Sinn Fein.
Trimble’s willingness to engage and compromise was pivotal to the success of the Good Friday Agreement. He represented the UUP in talks leading to the agreement and, in October 1998, was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Nationalist politician John Hume. Trimble’s efforts did not sit well with hardline Loyalists like Paisley, who called his Nobel Prize “a bit of a farce”. In July 1998 Trimble was elected as Northern Ireland’s inaugural First Minister, a position he held for more than four years. Trimble lost his Westminster seat in May 2005 and immediately resigned as UUP leader. In 2006 he was given a life peerage and titled Baron Trimble of Lisnagarvey. He continues to sit in the House of Lords today.
This page was written by Rebekah Poole and Jennifer Llewellyn. To reference this page, use the following citation:
R. Poole & J. Llewellyn, “David Trimble”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/northernireland/david-trimble/.