Ruth Dudley Edwards knew Trimble better than most of his critics, and maybe even his own colleagues. She quotes a letter in the Irish Times last week which notes the silence that greeted the demise of a politician who played a key role in leading Northern Ireland from war to peace. She concludes that:
Hyland [the letter writer] and I are a tiny minority among Irish citizens, to most of whom Trimble is anathema, for as a culture we seem programmed to prefer style to substance. We love empty vessels like Bill Clinton, who tells us we are wonderful and that he wants to be Irish. We sure as hell can’t stand straight-talking unionists who tell us they want to stay British.
She goes on to refute the most often repeated line about Trimble:
In Wednesday’s Irish Times, he [Vincent Browne] delivered a familiar rant: Trimble failed to sell the Agreement to unionists, he wrongly focused on decommissioning rather than getting Sinn Fein on the policing board, he lacked courage and he didn’t have the debating skills to dictate which issues were at the centre of the political agenda. Trimble did sell the Agreement to unionists. Unfortunately, after republicans ratted and robbed and killed and the two governments failed to punish them with more than the odd “tut, tut” unionists decided they’d been sold a pup.
Indeed she detects a lack of realism even in more subtle Nationalist arguments on the alleged failings of Trimble:
There’s a valid argument that it might have been better to focus on paramilitary wickednesses rather than on decommissioning, but that’s hindsight: the International Monitoring Commission was thought of rather late in the day. However the notion that Ulster Protestants would have rallied to the Agreement if Sinn Fein had become involved in running the police while the IRA remained intact and armed is from Planet Barking-Irish-Nationalist.