Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

David Trimble: I should have quit in 2003 ... and why oh why did I rise to DUP baiting?

Former First Minister and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble
Former First Minister and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble

Former First Minister David Trimble has spoken of his bitter regret that he didn't stand down sooner as Ulster Unionist leader.

The Nobel Peace prize winner said he may not have accepted the prize that he received along with John Hume of the SDLP in 1998 for their role in the Good Friday Agreement had Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams been nominated.

In a radio interview to be broadcast today, Lord Trimble of Lisnagarvey said he should have given up the leadership of the troubled party in 2003 when he lost his Assembly seat, rather than in 2005. He claimed, however, "there was no sign of any volunteers" to take on the mantle.

The former MLA believes if he had resigned sooner, there may have been enough time for a new leader to have shifted public opinion to avoid the DUP landslide after the 2005 General Election.

And he would rather forget his rash confrontation with DUP members in the infamous "fuss at the bus" incident at his party's east Belfast headquarters, which showed both unionist parties heckling one another.

His failure to stand down earlier than when he did – a day after he lost his Westminster seat in May 2005 – is one of the main topics in a frank interview as part of a BBC Radio 4 programme, due to be broadcast tonight.

Meeting Myself Coming Back is a new series in which public figures are asked to reflect on formative events in their lives.

Lord Trimble was asked to consider several events, ranging from looking at a Press cutting showing him graduating from Queen's University Belfast with a first class honours law degree, to his formative political years in the unionist Vanguard movement.

He spoke movingly of his time with Vanguard founder Bill Craig but revealed that Mr Adams not being nominated for the Nobel prize removed a potential difficulty. Mentioning his concerns to the Nobel Peace Prize committee secretary on his arrival in Oslo, Mr Trimble said the secretary confirmed it had been bombarded with calls for Mr Adams to have been included in the international honour.

But this was answered by the simple fact that Mr Adams could not have received the prize because he had not been nominated.

Lord Trimble added: "I said that it would have given me very great difficulties, and as to what decision I would have made in that context, I do not know."

He also spoke of his failure to handle the arrival of the DUP's election battle bus at party HQ when he had to endure taunts of: "Take your peace prize money and go away, run away and enjoy yourself, Trimble".

He said: "If I could forget that, I would. Going outside to them was a mistake.

"The only way to have handled the situation effectively was to go out with a smile on my face and invite them in for a cup of tea.

"It was a piece of political theatre that worked very well for them. I shouldn't have gone out there, and I actually played right into their hands."

BACKGROUND

Best known for his role in agreeing the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Lord Trimble of Lisnagarvey is now a Conservative peer in the House of Lords. A Member of Parliament for Upper Bann from 1990-2005, he was leader of the Ulster Unionist Party from 1995 until he resigned. He was First Minister from 1998-2002. A former law lecturer, the 68-year-old lives in Lisburn with his wife Daphne. The couple have two sons and two daughters.

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