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David Kerr

Trimble  Amazon Co UK

Henry McDonald. Bloomsbury, London 2000. ISBN 0 747 4452 2. £16.99review1.gif (19606 bytes) 

LEE REYNOLDS, the ‘stalking horse’ candidate who helped unseat the former Ulster Unionist Party leader sometimes wakes up at 4:00 am, "and wonders how he managed to get rid of one weak leader, James Molyneaux, only to pave the way for another one, David Trimble". How did it happen? Who is Ulster’s ‘DeKlerk figure’ and where did he come from?

Henry McDonald is The Observer’s Ireland correspondent. He traces Trimble’s career through his involvement in Ulster Vanguard and the 1974 UWC strike, his involvement in the Ulster Clubs movement, his election to parliament in 1990 right through to his leadership of the UUP and the formation of the new Stormont executive in November 1999.

As his contemporary David Burnside recalled, Vanguard in 1972 was "really the only unionist organisation at the time which thought things through, tried to find a real alternative to direct rule. David Trimble was one of Vanguard’s backroom boys, although he was not universally popular. He first came into contact with loyalist paramilitary groups at this time and was even sworn into Vanguard’s short-lived ‘doomsday’ paramilitary wing, the Vanguard Service Corps. Vanguard was a nursery ground for new talent and Trimble flourished.

When the Sunningdale executive fell, Vanguard, with the quickly withdrawn support of the DUP’s Rev William Beattie, advocated voluntary coalition with the SDLP. Vanguard split on the issue and Craig and Trimble were expelled from the United Ulster Unionist Council. Trimble always believed, probably correctly, that unionism missed an opportunity to be magnanimous in victory. At the same time, Trimble and the economist John Simpson helped loyalist paramilitary groups to produce a document, Ulster can Survive Unfettered, which advocated an independent Ulster. Such a state would seek cross-border co-operation as an equal with Éire. The document also proposed a Community of the British Isles. It was all forward thinking stuff. He repeated this when he wrote a similar document for the Ulster Clubs movement in 1987 advocating dominion status for Ulster.

So what went wrong? How did this staunch Ulsterman, an advocate of Ulster independence and champion of his people end up where he is today? Trimble sincerely believes that he is drawing the teeth of the republican movement by engaging with it in the government of the country. He has caused division and dissension within his party and the community at large. He has made a great gamble. Will he be proved right? I don’t think so. I believe that he has been seduced by the likes of Blair, Clinton, Ahern and that it will all end in tears. Still, it’s best to see what motivates this complex man and McDonald's book is likely to be the standard work for some time. Now that the institutions of the Executive are up and running again, I expect that a revised paperback will be out soon.

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