David Trimble: People of Northern Ireland should take credit for saving lives
The former UUP leader won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in sealing the landmark 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.
The people of Northern Ireland can claim the credit for ending violence and saving lives, former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Trimble has said.
David Trimble won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in sealing the landmark 1998 Good Friday peace agreement and paramilitary arms were later decommissioned during his tenure as UUP chief.
The threat of repeated Stormont powersharing suspensions forced the IRA to destroy its detonators and other weapons, he added.
He told the Press Association: “When we had the opportunity to put a good deal in front of people, that changed the context completely.
“We saw that, subsequent to that, those dissident IRA people who did not want to see peace have failed in their campaign.
“Lives have been saved but lives have been saved primarily by the effectiveness of the security forces; that, I think, was a big part behind the republican decision to introduce, to go on to ceasefire and to then explore whether they could successfully take part in politics.”
Lord Trimble was First Minister of Northern Ireland from 1998 to 2002 when the institutions were suspended following a police raid on Sinn Fein’s Stormont offices.
The UUP was eventually eclipsed by its staunch opponents the Democratic Unionists as the majority voice of unionism and he stood down as leader in 2005 after being ousted as Upper Bann MP.
Lord Trimble said the credit for saving lives 20 years ago lay with “the people of Northern Ireland generally who made it clear to paramilitaries that they did not want that to continue.”
He said it represented a good deal for nationalists and unionists.
Details of North-South arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic were still to be hammered out between Belfast and Dublin using the authority given by each legislature – a break from past arrangements like the failed Sunningdale powersharing of the 1970s, Lord Trimble said.
Policing reform was also left until later, to await independent review by the Patten Commission.
But the former Ulster Unionist turned Conservative peer said politics bore fruit on Good Friday.
“We were delighted to have reached that position because, all during the time of the Troubles, politics had not been able to deliver and we knew that sooner or later we were going to have to actually create things and we did, we had the chance to do it then and I am delighted that we had the chance and we have taken that.”
During the Good Friday negotiations Tony Blair had assured him that, if republicans did not come forward promptly to decommission arms, he would suspend the devolved institutions.
Mr Trimble added: “Blair stuck by his promises to me, in a situation where the Irish Government, the US Government and Sinn Fein were all saying to Blair ‘Don’t do this’, Blair supported the unionists at that time.
“We stayed suspended until we got a much clearer statement from the IRA, not from Sinn Fein, from the IRA, in which the IRA promised to decommission, said that they would decommission in a manner generally acceptable and help to create confidence in the process; they also made provision for inspection of their arms dumps.”