“It is with great sadness that Lord Trimble’s family have announced that he has passed away today after a short illness,” the Ulster Unionist Party said in a statement on behalf of the former ruler’s family.
The Protestant judge, who entered politics in the early 1970s through the Unionist Vanguard Party and is close to the paramilitary forces, helped forge the Good Friday Peace Agreement with the late Catholic John Hume, a Nobel laureate a quarter of a century later.
“Deeply saddened by the passing of David Trimble, who played a vital and courageous role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland,” Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin said on Twitter.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who mourned the death of a “giant of British and international politics”, said he would “long be remembered for his intellect, personal bravery and fierce determination to change politics for the better”.
Liz Truss, head of British diplomacy and candidate for Downing Street, hailed Trimble as a “huge figure” who helped seal the peace deal and was “fundamental to the creation of Northern Ireland today.
Trimble led to the first devolved government to emerge from the Treaty, which ended three decades of bloody conflict between Republicans, mainly Catholics and supporters of Irish reunification, and Unionists, mainly Protestants, and supporters of keeping the province under the British Crown.
“David Trimble is a man of courage and vision. “He chose to seize the opportunity for peace and seek to end the violence that has plagued his beloved Northern Ireland for decades,” said Doug Beattie, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.
After living with vanguard extremists, David Trimble joined the Ulster Unionist Party (UPP) in 1978 and became its leader in 1995, five years after his first term as a British MP in London.
Following the Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire in the autumn of 1997, Trimble was the first union official to open a dialogue with republicans in Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing.
Along with former Catholic leader John Hume, David Trimble received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 in recognition of his “efforts to find a peaceful solution” to the problems that caused more than 3,500 deaths.
Trimble, a supporter of Brexit, criticized the Northern Ireland protocol last year, contending it was illegal because Northern Ireland’s departure from the EU’s customs union would violate the laws of the union that created the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland Act of 1800, which enacted the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998.