Northern Ireland politician, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP, or Official Unionist Party, OUP) 1995–2005 and Northern Ireland's first minister 1998–2002. Representing the Upper Bann constituency in the House of Commons 1990–2005, he unexpectedly won the leadership of the UUP in August 1995, defeating John Taylor, when James Molyneaux retired at the age of 75. Trimble shared the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1998 with John Hume for their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland, and was one of the leading negotiators in the creation of a cross-community government in Belfast which met for the first time in December 1999 as powers were devolved to the province by the British government. His period as first minister was interrupted on several occasions because of disputes over IRA arms decommissioning and in 2005 voters turned against the UUP, which held only one of its 18 seats in the UK Parliament. Trimble was among those defeated. In 2006, he became a member of the House of Lords, with the title Baron Trimble of Lisnagarvey (County of Antrim) and in April 2007 left the Unionist Party and joined the Conservative Party.
Originally viewed as a hardliner, Trimble proved to be a more flexible leader of the UUP than had been predicted. He gave an impetus to the Northern Ireland peace process, meeting UK prime minister John Major, Irish taoiseach John Bruton, and US president Bill Clinton. Still emphasizing the need for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to decommission its weaponry, he nevertheless suggested a route to all-party talks through elections, although this proposal was opposed by republican spokespersons.
He accepted the 1998 Good Friday Agreement on power-sharing, which was rejected by the more extreme Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), led by Ian Paisley, and the United Kingdom Unionist Party, led by Robert McCartney. He was chosen as Northern Ireland's first minister after the newly elected Northern Ireland Assembly met in June 1998. Determined to make the peace agreement work, in September 1988 at Stormont, he met Gerry Adams, president of the IRA's political arm, Sinn Féin, in the first meeting between Unionist and Republican leaders for several generations. After the Assembly's powers had been suspended following the failure of the IRA to begin decommissioning of arms, Trimble persuaded UUP colleagues to return to the Assembly in exchange for another IRA initiative on decommissioning. Continuing arguments over the extent of IRA decommissioning led to suspensions in his period as first minister between February and May 2000 and July and November 2001, and in October 2002 the Assembly was suspended over accusations of an IRA spy ring.
Born in Belfast and educated at Queen's University, Belfast, Trimble qualified as a barrister and lectured in law at Queen's for 22 years before fully committing himself to politics. In the 1970s he was involved with the Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party (VPUP), which had links to loyalist paramilitaries, but was on its moderate wing, supporting allowing voluntary power-sharing with the Irish nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party. On the break-up of the VPUP in 1978, he joined the UUP, and became a party secretary. He represented a new, less dogmatic, breed of Northern Ireland politicians, willing to consider closer links with the province's southern neighbour.
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