Trimble: the slow pace of reconciliation

Frank Millar’s first full length book (Newshound) is, in effect, a lengthy interrogation of David Trimble a man whose name will be for ever associated with the Belfast Agreement. In accordance with his reputation as a journlalist, Millar is patient and thorough, and spares his subject no blushes. Over the next few days, I’ll be teasing out some of the highlights of the book, drawn from a series of exhaustive interviews over the summer of 2004.

For many nationalists of all shades at the time, Trimble always seemed a conflicted character: committed to the pragmatic need for a political solution, but still not desparately keen on having Catholics about the place. To this day, there remains considerable scepticism about his motives.

Millar draws him out on the concept of reconciliation:

…the people who’ve got a concept of reconciliation, which is we’ve all got to be best friends, you know, and live in each other’s pockets all the time… I’m pretty sure they don’t do that in their own lives. Nor is it reasonable to expect other people to behave in that way, as if it comes down to a sort of political correctness that we use certain language even though it’s not what people believe.

Trimble goes on:

I thought we were much more likely to gradually evolve to a society where people were more comfortable and where the differentials would be less of an issue. Differences in society, differences in religious belief and identity are not necessarily a bad thing. What you should try and do is try and diffuse the political clash and have a situation where we no longer have religion and community identity coaligned with political views.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    accordance with his reputation as a journlalist, Millar is patient and thorough, and spares his subject no blushes.

    Don’t you mean his reputation as a former UUP office holder?


  • davidbrew

    Actually a better read than I expected. It’s clearly been rushed out to repair the collateral damage of Godson’s book. I believe all UUC delegates are getting a free copy, and much good it’ll do them. There aren’t even any pictures.

    Millar seems to have interviewed the turtle on a thematic basis, with opportunities to explain the strategy(sic)- now please don’t laugh. In fact he confirms the farce that was UUP policy on Patten, and that Trimble was never too exercised by the RUC’s fate, or the prisoner releases.

    Trimble accepts he bought into the idea that the Provos had been defeated and had to be given a route into politics, which meant taking a lot of hits as inducements. Millar skewers him on the lack of linkage between decommissioning and the provo wish list. One can almost hear the irritation in his ludicrous claim that he stuck with the “no guns; no government” policy.

    He intended to have a voluntary coalition with the SDLP within the compulsory coalition, to marginalise SF, but there was never the slightest chance of this happening outside his dreamworld, particularly when he had such a bad relationship with Mallon.

    He also accepts that Donaldson would have toppled him if he’d gone for the jugular post the 2001 general election ( told you so Jeffrey!), and was quite prepared to shed the 30% he estimated as traditional Unionists in the party , again regardless of the electoral mathematics.

    He comes across as a gambler backing the same horse again and again with larger stakes at longer odds, and in his own words it’s all the more remarkable for the candour. But hey, I’m obviously biased- buy it yourself and be amazed at how far self delusion can drive a supposedly intelligent human being

    Three books from three very different perspectives. All show the same pattern of undeniable failings and character flaws-all to be fair in the context of generally favourable judgments of his motivation and recognising the problems he faced. But essentially they all say -to varying degrees- he should have done better. And I think everyone outside the asylum that is Cunningham House will concur with that.

  • Christopher Stalford


    I’ve just finished the Godson book. My dearest “what do you want a book about him for?” bought me it for Christmas.

    A completely damning indictment of Trimble as a political operator. Empey comes across even worse – anything for office.

  • davidbrew

    And some bloody brilliant photographs :0)

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks for that David, an excellent and fair precis. More of this book review from me will follow – when I can get back to the computer for long enough!