27th July 2022
Growing up in the 1990s in Carrickfergus I was fortunate to be sheltered from so much of our troubled history, but I vividly remember the Good Friday Agreement referendum of 1998. I don’t remember it well and of course I wasn’t aware of the importance of this vote, but I remember pleas to vote “Yes” and posters urging a “No” vote, I remember my friend telling me in the playground, “My mummy says to vote No because we won’t get anything if we vote Yes,” and I remember my six-year-old brain thinking that “Yes” is a good word and “No” is a bad word, so I wanted “Yes” to win.
The intricacies of what “Yes” and “No” really meant would later be explained to me as I studied A Level politics, which was shortly after the Northern Ireland Executive was formed in 2008 with the DUP and Sinn Féin as the largest parties. This was my first real introduction to the political makeup of Northern Ireland, and how the “Yes” vote I remembered from my childhood contributed to the champions of this agreement being relegated to side players in the Executive.
By the time I was of voting age, I had no doubt where my political allegiances lay, largely due to the man who led unionism to the Good Friday Agreement, David Trimble.
David Trimble was an unlikely leader, he was softly-spoken, lacking in communication skills, and was known for at times being bad-tempered. Most unusual for a political leader though is that he took huge risks at the expense of both himself and his party for the greater good, in an effort to secure peace.
David Trimble was underappreciated in his lifetime, but I believe history will look kindly on him. I have no doubt that there are many people alive today who wouldn’t be here were it not for the signing of the Agreement in 1998, and the efforts and sacrifices made by David Trimble and John Hume to get Northern Ireland to that point.
The onus is now on today’s political leaders, to pay tribute to the now-gone architects of the peace process in Northern Ireland, by ensuring we continue to live in a peaceful, safe, democratic society.
My generation never knew the horrors that the generation before us lived through, and hopefully the generations that follow me will continue to be protected thanks to the peace process that David Trimble played such a vital role in.
We may never see a unionist leader like David Trimble again. We are fortunate that he was the right man at the right time, the unlikely leader with a legacy to be proud of.
Photograph credit: UK Parliament official portrait