Trimble always maintained passion for politics and reconciliation – Beattie

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David Trimble maintained his passion for politics and for healing divisions in Northern Ireland right up until his death, Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie has said.

During a visit to Stormont, Mr Beattie recalled his final meeting with Lord Trimble just months ago, when he said the frail former first minister knocked doors with him on the election trail and spoke to every householder they encountered.

Mr Beattie laid a bouquet of flowers below a portrait of Lord Trimble in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings before standing for a moment of reflection.

Lord Trimble, the inaugural first minister of Northern Ireland and one of the architects of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, died at the age of 77 on Monday.

Speaking to the media, Mr Beattie said that the former leader of the UUP had come from a “different political era” than himself.

He said: “Like so many politicians he came from an era which was dominated by trouble, murder and violence, and it shaped the man.

“What it shaped was a man who knew that he could take decisions and was never afraid to make changes.

“He went through a journey which led in 1998 to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement which has fundamentally changed Northern Ireland.

“We now have a peace, it is an imperfect peace, but it is a peace we can work on for our children and for the future.”

David Trimble death
David Trimble was a former leader of the UUP and First Minister of Northern Ireland (Paul Faith/PA)

Mr Beattie added: “I would never be able to fill the shoes of David Trimble but I’m extremely proud to be the Ulster Unionist Party leader and to be able to look back at the passing of David and say that he was once the leader of this great party.

“In the conversations that I had with him, even as frail as he’d become in the last number of months, there was a fire in his eyes for politics, there was a fire in his eyes for peace in Northern Ireland and there was a fire in his eyes to try and heal the divisions which blighted this part of the United Kingdom.

“He was a great unionist, he was a great politician. Many of those from the party that I have spoken to are genuinely feeling his loss today and will need to come to terms with it over the next number of days.”

The UUP leader, a military veteran, said he was serving abroad when Lord Trimble and SDLP leader John Hume helped to negotiate the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

He said: “His reach was reaching me in places around the world and I could see the vision within that man right across the world.

“When I became a councillor and then an MLA in his old constituency he was very gracious with his time. He used to talk to me and tell me what I could do, should do.

“When I became the party leader he spoke to me about the loneliness of leadership in the political arena and that when you choose your path never be afraid to change your mind, never be afraid to change course. But if you have a belief then you must stick to that belief.

“I think that his graciousness with his time, his advice, is something that will stick with me.”

He added: “The last time I was with David was during the election. He came out canvassing with me, it was a wonderful day.

“He was frail and he should only have knocked a couple of doors but he knocked a good 50 doors and spoke to everybody who came to the door.

“He was surrounded by young unionists. I looked at David in his 70s and frail and who had given so much of himself for peace and I realised that his legacy is far greater than people will ever realise.

“I think his legacy will be the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement – working alongside John Hume.

“The peace that he has given to us, that uneasy peace, that is what he will be remembered for.

“He was fragile, he was awkward in company, but when he set his mind to something he really did stick to it.

“Even today, nearly 25 years on, I will continue to fight for that Belfast Agreement in all its parts.”

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