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David Trimble obituary

The fantasy of the Sages of the peace process.

01 August 2022

David Trimble pictured with Seamus Mallon and US president Bill Clinton

There's an old saying; "Don't speak ill of the dead", which is generally good manners and good advice. However, commentators on the death of David Trimble, unionist leader at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, have fallen to the other side of the argument into gushing adoration.

The leader of the proto-fascist Vanguard movement, who clawed his way to the top of the Unionist Party by being to the right of everyone else, defender of Orange supremacy, allied with Loyalist killers, is now reinvented as an apostle of peace. The BBC went as far as to include him in a pantheon including Bertie Ahern of Fianna Fail, John Hume, Sinn Féin's Adams and McGuinness alongside Trimble.  A BBC presentation even went so far as to throw in Ian Paisley on the grounds that he had eventually signed up to the (by then much modified) deal.

As with every ideology, the narrative denies elements of reality. The most important person on the list is Ahern, who set the conditions for the Irish bourgeoisie (They didn't have any conditions).  The agreement was crafted by Tony Blair around the nostrum that; "Ulster has to say yes to something", and with the firm support of Clinton and the US.

So, the credit that Trimble deserves is the credit for being a realist. He fought for Unionist victory, fought to water down British proposals, went along when there was no choice, was ousted when the inherent sectarianism of the deal saw Paisley surpass him, but continued to fight for imperialism, signing up with the reactionary Brexit movement that so damaged his own cause.

The importance of the present hagiography of David Trimble and the others involved is that it defines the present. The real actors, British and US imperialism, are excluded because their victory was so extensive that imperialism is no longer visible.  The conflict is claimed to be tribal, resolved by sages from each tradition extending the hand of friendship. The way forward is to conciliate the bigots by for example, retaining housing apartheid.

This narrative is so successful that Sinn Féin now focus on leading the partitioned Assembly, the unions see workers’ rights as being achieved through the restoration of the local Executive and calls for the Republic have been replaced by calls for negotiated unity in the sweet bye and bye. Criticism is largely confined to republicans who want to rerun the armed struggle while expecting a different outcome.

Yet there really is a decaying imperialism that rules all our lives. A far-right UK government seems likely to bring back an Irish land border. The US has stepped back in the face of British usefulness in the Ukraine proxy war. Dublin is prostate in the face of US and EU demands and are heading towards a massive squeeze on the working class. Recent events in Britain indicate that the working class is in no mood to accept further austerity. Open class struggle is on the agenda, and we will finally put fairy tales about the sages of the peace process in a museum of fantasy where they belong.

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