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Former Prime Minister Sir Tony Blair remembers Lord David Trimble’s ‘tremendous courage’ ahead of funeral

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Then Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble and British prime minister Tony Blair in 1998 during the Labour Party Conference at Blackpool (Fiona Hanson/PA)

Then Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble and British prime minister Tony Blair in 1998 during the Labour Party Conference at Blackpool (Fiona Hanson/PA)

Then Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble and British prime minister Tony Blair in 1998 during the Labour Party Conference at Blackpool (Fiona Hanson/PA)

The former Prime Minister Sir Tony Blair has paid tribute to the “tremendous courage” of David Trimble ahead of his funeral today.

Speaking to BBC Good Morning Ulster, he said the landmark peace deal in 1998 could not have happened without Lord Trimble.

"I think what’s important is that people understand not just the huge contribution that David Trimble made to peace in Northern Ireland – because the peace process could not have happened without him, that’s just a simple statement of fact – but also some recognition of the character it took to withstand all the criticism that he got, the threats against his own life that were made,” he said.

"In times where people search for an example of genuine political leadership, his is a very good example.”

Acknowledging Lord Trimble could be “plain speaking,” and that the two clashed on occasion, he said he never lost “respect or admiration” for his efforts and the “tremendous courage” that it took to do it.

Remembering David Trimble

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Although Lord Trimble was too unwell to speak to him recently, Sir Tony said he had written to him.

"I just said to him, obviously I was very sorry for the illness he had and the position he was in, but I just said to him just realise how many people appreciate what you did and how many people there are today whose lives have been changed for the better,” he said.

Recalling the volatile situation in Belfast during the Troubles compared to today’s prosperity, he added: “None of that would have happened without him, and that’s what I really wanted to say to him and to make sure he appreciated that there are many, many people (who will) probably never get the chance to say this to him, who owe him something and would want him to know that.”

Asked about commentary suggesting that unionism lacks such a statesman today, he said that current leaders should look to Lord Trimble as an example.

Recalling the “agonising” days of negotiations leading up to signing the Good Friday Agreement, he remembered the UUP leader pledging his word to stick with the plan.

"He did say ‘it’s going to cause a lot of angst and anxiety and a lot of criticism for me in doing it...but nonetheless I think it’s right and we will go for it.’

"I think that’s what important to remember for people who are in positions of leadership….the toughest thing is always to say to the people who support you that ‘I’ve got to take you in a new direction, I’ve got to do something different.’

"Because the easiest thing to do, frankly, with all your own supporters is to play the tunes they want to hear.”

Lord Trimble’s funeral will take place this afternoon at Harmony Hill Presbyterian Church in Lisburn, before his burial at Lisburn New Cemetery.

Representatives of the British, Irish and US Governments are expected to attend to pay their respects.

A joint Nobel laureate along with the late SDLP leader John Hume, Lord Trimble had sat in the House of Lords before his death.

Having a short illness, he passed away at the Ulster Hospital at the age of 77 on July 25.

The service at 12.30pm will be led by his wife Daphne, children Richard, Victoria, Nicholas and Sarah along with wider family.

Northern Ireland Secretary Shailesh Vara will attend the service alongside Labour’s Peter Kyle, as well as the Irish President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Sinn Fein’s vice-president Michelle O’Neill, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, UUP leader Doug Beattie, Alliance leader Naomi Long and the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood are also expected to attend.


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