Trimble, David

Degree conferred: Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)

Orator: Patterson, Stephen E.

to be Doctor of Laws

"Blessed are the peacemakers" is the biblical inscription. In our day, such blessings may be expressed by the Nobel Prize for Peace. In whatever way we view the peacemaker, David Trimble is one. It was he who, as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, brought Northern Ireland Protestants into the famous Belfast Agreement ending years of sectarian violence. Despite substantial resistance within his own party, he agreed on that long, intense Good Friday meeting in 1998, that Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists would have to work together, rejecting armed conflict in favour of peaceable debate. For his efforts, he was named the winner, jointly with his countryman John Hume, of the 1999 Nobel Prize.

For David Trimble, making peace was not an act of visionary idealism. He has never believed that vague abstractions or dreams of a peaceable kingdom can ever be realized in any absolute sense. Rather, like Edmund Burke, the great eighteenth-century Irish political thinker and parliamentarian, he holds that peace and social order depend upon discussion, compromise, and the acceptance of less-than-ideal practical solutions to daily problems. Humankind is imperfect, and perfection in social relationships is not to be expected. But there is a process for coping with imperfection. Like Burke, David Trimble believes that that process is parliamentary democracy. It is politics. It is the art of compromise. And it is a process that never ends.

In an age when politics and politicians are frequently reviled and mistrusted, David Trimble stands out as one who believes that practical politics is humankind's best hope. Perhaps, like Churchill, he would agree that political democracy is the worst system, except for all the rest. From his earliest involvement in politics, he has clearly held it to be the art of the possible.

David Trimble was born in the town of Bangor, south of Belfast, and he studied law at Queen's University, Belfast, where he eventually became a lecturer and head of the Department of Commercial and Property Law. For almost his entire adult life, however, he has been involved in politics. For a short time he was active in the Vanguard Unionist Party, but then joined the Ulster Unionist Party, the longtime champion of Protestantism in Northern Ireland and defenders of the British connection. He worked his way up in the party by small steps. He served on committees, headed local constituency associations, and, yes, he marched in Protestant parades through Catholic neighbourhoods. In 1990, he was elected to Parliament, and in 1995, to the surprise of most political observers, he won the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party. Under his leadership, his party won 10 of the 18 Northern Ireland seats in the 1997 parliamentary elections.

The Good Friday Agreement which he helped fashion has dramatically changed the face of politics in Northern Ireland. Last year, the British government devolved power to a Northern Ireland Assembly. As leader of the largest political party, David Trimble was chosen First Minister. The task of making the Accord work has fallen to him.

Ever the realist, Mr. Trimble has constantly warned that peace is fragile, and that imperfect leaders must continually strive to resolve differences that their constituents may not wish to resolve. What is most remarkable about his accomplishment is that he has carried his party and its followers, despite their deeply entrenched notions to the contrary, into a partnership with those long thought to be the enemy. And since he has become First Minister of them all, whether unionist or nationalist, Protestant of Catholic, he has reminded them of what they hold in common, including religious beliefs that are, at bottom, identical.

The new, peaceful Northern Ireland is a work in progress. And it is a work in which David Trimble's role is best described by himself. As he said in his Nobel Prize address: "If you want to hear of a possible Northern Ireland, not a Utopia, but a normal decent society, flawed as human beings are flawed, but fair as human beings are fair, then I hope not to disappoint you." David Trimble has not disappointed either his countrymen or a watching world. Today, he does us great honour by coming here to be with us. We salute him as democrat, parliamentarian, politician, and peacemaker.

From: Honoris Causa - UA Case 70, Box 3

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