The funeral service for architect of the peace process David Trimble should be used as inspiration to break the political deadlock in Northern Ireland, mourners have said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Taoiseach Micheal Martin were among the mourners at Harmony Hill Presbyterian Church in Lisburn, County Antrim, for the former prime minister’s funeral.
Irish President Michael D Higgins, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill also attended the service in Lambeg.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Lord Trimble died last week at the age of 77 following an illness.
The former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party played a key role in crafting the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement which ended decades of conflict in Northern Ireland.
Months after the agreement was signed, the peer, from Co Down, was awarded the Nobel Prize jointly with late SDLP leader John Hume in recognition of their efforts to stop the bloodshed and establish a system of decentralized governance power sharing in the region.
On Tuesday, Stormont Assembly will meet again for a special sitting to pay tribute to Lord Trimble.
The institutions are currently on ice, with the DUP blocking the creation of a power-sharing administration in protest at the Northern Ireland Brexit Protocol.
Lord Trimble’s widow, Lady Daphne, took her place in the front row as the coffin was carried into the church by their sons and daughters.
Reverend Minister Fiona Forbes greeted the mourners at the service.
She said: “The range of those who have gathered today to pay their respects is testament not only to David’s impact on the political landscape of which he was so much a part, but also to the footprints he left on that. here and there the legacy he left us all.
“Of course we remember an academic, a party leader, a peacemaker, a Nobel laureate, the first to serve as prime minister in the new executive of Northern Ireland established under the Good Friday Agreement.
“But we also remember a husband, a father and a grandfather, a brother, a brother-in-law and an uncle, a colleague, a committed member of this church family and friend.”
Lord Trimble’s eldest son, Richard, thanked the public for their sympathy and kind words following his father’s passing.
The Reverend Charles McMullen told mourners that Lord Trimble’s actions had allowed a generation in Northern Ireland to grow up in “relative peace”.
Paying tribute to the service, the former moderator of the Presbyterian Church said: “Alongside others, he met seemingly impossible challenges with tremendous strength of character, intellectual insight and total integrity.
“The reward for all of us has been a dramatically changed landscape here in Northern Ireland, which has saved many lives and allowed a generation to grow up in relative peace.
“As many have said over the past few days, history will be extremely kind to David, even though life has brought many relentless pressures and demands.”
Dr McMullen added: ‘He was a committed family man and as I sat with Daphne, his daughters Victoria and Sarah and his sons Richard and Nicholas over the past few days, I was deeply touched and moved by so many stories, all of which underlined how much he was loved by them.
“They gave it to us and we want to take this opportunity to express our deepest gratitude to them.”
He told the congregation that the Omagh bombing had doubled Lord Trimble’s determination to achieve peace.
He said: “As Prime Minister, David had to cut short a family holiday in order to return home to visit Omagh following this horrific bombing which killed so many people, an experience which completely devastated but doubled her determination to continue building bridges and working for peace.
“I remember running into him a few days after the Good Friday deal was done and hearing how afterwards on his way home he went into a hole in the wall but didn’t couldn’t remember his ID number.
“It was an indication of being under almost unbearable stress, but he always had the courage of his convictions and was ready to pay the price.”
Dr McMullen said he hoped the funeral service could be used as an inspiration to redouble efforts to resolve political differences in Northern Ireland.
Referring to Lord Trimble’s Nobel Prize speech in 1998, he told mourners: “In that speech, David made this inspiring comment: ‘The dark shadow we seem to see in the distance is not really a mountain in front of us, but the shadow of the mountain behind – a shadow of the past cast into our future. It is a black sludge of historical bigotry. We can leave it behind if we wish. But both communities must give up, because the two created it”.
“This is a very powerful quote as it reminds us of the achievements of the Good Friday Agreement in placing the principle of consent at the center of our policy and ultimately removing the gun.
“It also reminds us that although we are on a journey into the past, the mountain still casts a shadow and we are all, to a greater or lesser extent, healing sectarians.
“Can we use this service today, in a fitting tribute to one of the greats, to redouble our efforts on this island of ours?
“With courage, pragmatism and generosity of spirit, may our politicians engage wholeheartedly in resolving the outstanding issues surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol, so that our democratic institutions are speedily restored and we can all move forward together.”