Alumnus who helped broker 1998 peace deal honoured
Lord Trimble (77), who was a student and staff member at the university, was the subject of another notable alumnus, Belfast artist Colin Davidson.
Ex-Ulster Unionist chief Lord Trimble held the position of First Minister from 1998 to 2002, and helped broker the Good Friday Agreement with late SDLP leader John Hume.
Their roles in the negotiations that helped bring an end to the Troubles saw them awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The unveiling at Riddel Hall was attended by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, and there were video messages from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.
Interviewed at the event, Lord Trimble reflected on the Agreement, saying it “has survived almost 25 years despite objections to some parts of it”.
“The Good Friday Agreement is something which everybody in Northern Ireland has been able to agree with,” he added.
“It doesn’t mean they agree with everything, there are aspects which some people thought were a mistake, but the basic thing is that this was agreed.
“That is there. People are actually not throwing the Agreement to pieces; their complaints are still based on the existence of the Agreement. They are not saying ‘throw it out’, so that’s the thing to bear in mind.”
He graduated from Queen’s in 1968 and pursued an academic career in the law faculty before becoming UUP leader.
Asked what it meant to have his portrait in the university, Lord Trimble recalled supervising examinations in the same hall where his image will hang.
“Whenever I was looking over the exams, I often used to look up into the eyes of the other portraits,” he said.
Commenting on the current political situation, in which the DUP is refusing to return to Stormont until London acts over the Brexit protocol, Lord Trimble described a “simple solution”.
“Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, therefore the United Kingdom should keep Northern Ireland,” he said.
“What we have at the moment is something where the United Kingdom is not keeping Northern Ireland.”
He criticised as “indefensible” that people here had no say in the protocol arrangements.
Lady Trimble voiced her admiration for the portrait, saying it had caught her husband in a moment of reflection.
Mr Davidson, who has painted other notable figures such as Mr Hume, the Queen, Brad Pitt and Ed Sheeran, said he was “very aware of the responsibility as an artist in painting somebody who was very instrumental in getting us to where we are now”.
He added: “He was very instrumental in brokering peace, and so whenever names like Bill Clinton, George Mitchell, Tony Blair, John Hume and Bertie Ahern are mentioned, David Trimble is right in there as well.
“In some ways, we wouldn’t have that same peace in this place without people like him.”
Mr Ahern described his admiration for Lord Trimble, although he admitted “we would argue black was white at times”.
“At the same time we worked together to implement the Agreement, to try to make sure there was a better future for the people here,” he said.
“I think he was a brave man, he never blinked. He was under tremendous pressure for many months... he saw at that stage the opportunity for real peace and real institutions.”