29 May 2008 Edition
Book Review: David Trimble - The Price of Peace
The Tribulations of Saint David
By Frank Millar.
IN David Trimble: The Price of Peace, Frank Millar, London Editor of the Irish Times, sets out to convince us that behind the red face and irascible manner, David Trimble was a visionary unionist leader who sacrificed his political career and his own party for the cause of peace.
The book is not a biography of David Trimble. Nor is it a history of his role in the Peace Process. It is essentially an extended interview with David Trimble, with occasional comments from Millar, himself a former General Secretary of Trimble’s Ulster Unionist Party in the 1980s. For most of the book’s 240 pages, Trimble speaks for himself, giving his views on the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement, the subsequent difficulties in its implementation, and his relations with Dublin, Tony Blair, the loyalists, DUP, republicans, SDLP and his own party.
Obviously, therefore, the book was unlikely to be a searching critique of Trimble’s actions or motivations. However, this is accentuated by the line of questioning chosen by the author, which seems designed to show Trimble in the most favourable light, as a moderniser who was willing to stretch his supporters to the limit to achieve a deal. Other questions – such as why Trimble failed to aggressively sell the Good Friday Agreement to his own constituency – simply don’t get asked.
The picture that emerges from the Trimble-Millar dialogue is of Trimble as a brave and forward-looking political leader who was let down by just about everybody he dealt with... By the SDLP, who failed to take up his offer to unite with the Ulster Unionists in a “government of the centre” that would marginalise Sinn Féin. By the British Government, which was too ready to give concessions to republicans. By Dublin, who never really understood the difficulties Trimble faced from his own party. By Bill Clinton, who was too sympathetic to Sinn Féin by far. By the loyalists, who had the temerity to set up political organisations of their own rather than joining the UUP. And, of course, by the dastardly republicans, who out-negotiated him in the years after 1998 and refused to don sackcloth and ashes, atone for their misdeeds, and accept their subordinate place within a reformed Six-County state.
There is another view of David Trimble: as a man who achieved the leadership of his party by playing to the most reactionary elements of unionism during the Drumcree crisis; who was forced, reluctantly, by circumstances to conclude a political deal in 1998; and who was the author of his subsequent misfortunes through his failure to sell the Good Friday Agreement to the unionist electorate. But this perspective is never put to Trimble in The Price of Peace.
The book certainly offers occasional insights into Trimble’s thinking. Particularly interesting is his view that unionism had allowed itself to be marginalised in the years of conflict and especially under the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and that engagement in the Peace Process was necessary to put unionism back centre-stage and would copper-fasten the Union.
Looking to the future, he says that instead of a United Ireland, “The Irish Republic will get closer and closer to the United Kingdom... I don’t suppose that the Irish will return to the pre-1921 Union. But they’ll get very close to the British.” Or again: “Are we not all part of the British Isles?”
And when Millar belatedly puts it to Trimble that republicans may have felt they were treated as less than equals in the Northern state, he rejects the suggestion out of hand. Republicans were not fighting for equality: “They were fighting to destroy our civil rights.”
One is left with the impression that Trimble views Irish nationalism as a peculiar kind of mental affliction, explicable only by the weak-mindedness of natives who prefer to cling to their own benighted ways rather than welcoming the opportunities of union with “multicultural” Britain.
In short, The Price of Peace is marred by the undue sympathy its author displays towards its subject. However, it may unconsciously reveal the reason why David Trimble never became unionism’s De Klerk: his failure to appreciate the reality of nationalist grievance or even to accept Irish nationalism as a legitimate aspiration.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.