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Minute of silence

Stormont recalled as MLAs pay tribute to inaugural first minister David Trimble

Michelle O’Neill described Trimble’s ‘courage and generosity’.

LAST UPDATE | 2 Aug 2022

NORTHERN IRELAND’S POLITICAL leaders have returned to Stormont for a special sitting to deliver tributes to Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble.

MLAs returned to observe a minute’s silence and sign a book of condolence in memory of one of the key architects of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended decades of conflict in Northern Ireland.

Trimble died last week at the age of 77 following an illness.

A recall of the Assembly to attempt to elect a new Speaker was postponed last week following his death. The Assembly has not been sitting since the last election in May because the DUP are refusing to participate in the institutions until the UK Government takes action over their concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Sinn Fein Vice-President Michelle O’Neill paid tribute to Trimble’s “courage and generosity” as she recognised the personal risks he took to achieve peace.

“There is no doubt whatsoever he clearly made a huge contribution, not only in reaching that historic agreement, but by getting his party to sign on for it despite the huge challenges he faced,” O’Neill said.

“As we mourn his passing, let those of us in this House today reflect on the present realities a quarter century on from the hard won peace, and recognise that only through political maturity, civility and co-operation will politics work and deliver for the people we all serve.”

Stormont Speaker Alex Maskey said there is “no doubt that David Trimble took risks and took decisions often in the face of fierce opposition when it would have been personally easier for not to do so,” he said.

Maskey noted the passing of many significant political leaders in recent years, including former DUP leader Ian Paisley, SDLP leader John Hume and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness.

“I would therefore close by saying that while many of you in this chamber today may not have met them, the legacy of realising the potential of this Assembly and the agreements that were hard won now falls to yourselves.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug 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 Trimble’s funeral on yesterday 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.

DUP minister Edwin Poots noted that he was one of only four current MLAs who was elected to the Assembly of 1998.

“His ability and intellect was evident for all to see,” Poots said.

“His attention to detail was second to none. Actually, so much focused on the detail sometimes he didn’t focus on the message, but he was so focused on the detail.

“He was brave, in that he took on the challenges that came his way and they weren’t easy, particularly in a constituency like Upper Bann where the unionist population is very strong and they were certainly uneasy with much of what he was doing, and that transpired in future elections. But he was a dedicated unionist.”

Trimble, a leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, was jointly awarded the Nobel prize with late SDLP leader John Hume in recognition of their efforts to stop the bloodshed and establish a powersharing system of devolved governance in the region.

He then served as the Northern Ireland’s inaugural first minister.

The Stormont institutions are currently in limbo, with the DUP blocking the creation of a powersharing administration in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and President Michael D Higgins, as well as the UK’s Boris Johnson, were among the mourners who gathered at Harmony Hill Presbyterian Church in Lisburn, Co Antrim, yesterday for Trimble’s funeral.

Reverend Dr Charles McMullen appealed at the funeral service for politicians to use the occasion as inspiration to redouble their efforts to resolve their differences over the protocol.

He said: “Can we use this service today, in a fitting tribute to one of the great, to redouble our efforts on this island home of ours?

“With courage, pragmatism and generosity of spirit, may our politicians engage wholeheartedly in resolving the outstanding issues surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol, so that our democratic institutions are quickly restored and we can all move forward together.”

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