David Trimble: Former Northern Ireland first minister and UUP leader dies aged 77

David Trimble, the former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader and first-ever Northern Ireland minister, has died aged 77.

The party said in a statement that he died “peacefully earlier today following a short illness”.

From 1995, Lord Trimble led the UUP for a decade and was instrumental in negotiations of the Good Friday Agreement, which ended the worst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

His efforts to get his party to accept the pact won him and John Hume – leader of Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) – the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.

In 2005, he lost his Upper Bann seat in the House of Commons to a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) candidate and, from the following year, sat in the Lords as Baron Trimble of Lisnagarvey. In 2007, he joined the Conservative Party.

David Trimble and John Hume in Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize

(Jon Eeg/AP)

A statement from the UUP said: “It is with great sadness that the family of Lord Trimble announce that he passed away peacefully earlier today following a short illness.”

The Irish taoiseach Micheal Martin said Lord Trimble had played a “crucial and courageous role” in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations.

In a statement Mr Martin also said: “The work of reconciliation begun in the Good Friday Agreement continues, and as new generations pick up the mantle of this work, it is fitting that we pay tribute to Lord Trimble for his central contribution in setting us on the path to peace and reconciliation.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Lord Trimble was “a towering figure of Northern Ireland and British politics”.

During the Good Friday Agreement negotiations, Lord Trimble was criticised by the DUP for agreeing to a deal which allowed the IRA’s political wing Sinn Fein to enter into the devolved government while the IRA had not decommissioned its weapons.

When awarded the peace prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said he had “showed great political courage when, at a critical stage of the process, he advocated solutions which led to the [Good Friday] peace agreement”.

It added: “As the head of the Northern Ireland government, he has taken the first steps towards building up the mutual confidence on which a lasting peace must be based.”

In 1999, at a ceremony in Paris, he was appointed an Officier in the Legion d’Honneur by the French government and, in 2002, was given the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.

While generally socially conservative in outlook, Lord Trimble said in July 2019 that he had changed his position on equal marriage after his daughter Victoria married her girlfriend in 2017.

He is survived by his wife Daphne and children Richard, Victoria, Nicholas and Sarah.