De mortuis nil nisi bonum – We should speak no evil of the dead. So let me start by noting that David Trimble, who died yesterday, spared us the UUP under the leadership of John Taylor, aka Lord Kilclooney. At the time, Taylor was expected to grab the glittering prize. Trimble ended up triumphant.
He was an academic, and never really comfortable in the company of lesser intellects. When I interviewed him once, he passed me with a nod of the head while whistling some operatic air; in the interview shortly after I suggested that he was in favour of something but not totally: if it were a student’s essay would he give a B, a B+? “Yes, Beta plus” he said, which showed me that he scored in Greek.
He made one tragic mistake in his political career: he sold the Good Friday Agreement as not having damaged unionism. Instead of presenting it to his electorate as the road-map to a new NEI, with finally an opportunity to integrate nationalists as loyal subjects/citizens in this new dispensation, Trimble left the negotiating table trumpeting the extent to which unionism had emerged unscathed. Instead of hailing the negotiations as opening the door to a better tomorrow, he was anxious to reassure unionists that the nationalists really hadn’t put anything over on unionists.
Some commentators have described him as a shy man, others as tetchy. He was both. Like all academics, for Trimble the world outside the academic was to some degree a disordered, messy place and one in which he felt ill at ease. And convinced of the total wisdom of his views, he got very tetchy when he thought someone was questioning them – as Noel Thompson found out in an interview. And tetchiness and red hair have traditionally gone together.
He was reported as dying after a short illness; when he attended the unveiling of his portrait last summer he was scarcely recognisable, so I’m assuming he was ill for at least a year.
He did little for nationalism, beyond laughing at Martin McGuinness because he sat in the wrong seat at an early meeting. He did less for unionism, in trying to kid them that the GFA meant nothing had changed. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.