Trimble resigns after Paisley's DUP inflicts humiliating defeat

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David Trimble yesterday dramatically resigned as Ulster Unionist leader following a disastrous general election result in which his party was virtually obliterated by his rival, the Rev Ian Paisley.

David Trimble yesterday dramatically resigned as Ulster Unionist leader following a disastrous general election result in which his party was virtually obliterated by his rival, the Rev Ian Paisley.

The Nobel peace laureate said that he had been privileged to lead "the best and most democratic political grouping in Ulster".

His departure was regarded as inevitable following the landslide victory for Mr Paisley's Democratic Unionists. Mr Trimble and three party colleagues lost their seats, leaving only one Ulster Unionist in the Commons.

Mr Paisley won nine seats to establish the DUP as the Unionists' dominant voice. In Upper Bann, which Mr Trimble had held since 1990, the DUP had a majority of 5,000. Overall the DUP took 33.7 per cent of the vote while the UUP had only 17.7 per cent.

The UUP's vote has been in long-term decline, and the DUP notched up huge majorities in many constituencies. The UUP had traditionally been the largest party in Northern Ireland.

The possible successors to Mr Trimble include Sylvia Hermon, the party's sole MP, as well as defeated candidates Michael McGimpsey and David Burnside. None of the likely contenders is seen as being capable of reinspiring a party whose morale is at rock bottom.

In a long and turbulent career, Mr Trimble had hardline and moderate phases. He will best be remembered for opting to negotiate with London, Dublin and, most of all, Sinn Fein. Although his efforts were well received internationally - he won the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize - he never had total control either of his party or of Unionism as a whole.

This meant that his decade as leader was a turbulent time in which he attempted to negotiate with both the government and republicans while constantly fending off attacks from Unionist hardliners. His leadership was punctuated by a series of draining party meetings, usually summoned by his opponents. He prevailed at each one, but only by uncomfortably small majorities.

Mr Trimble served several periods as Northern Ireland's First Minister, but none of these lasted long, and devolution has been in suspension now for several years.

His electoral record was one of the weakest parts of his performance: his party had 10 MPs when he became leader in 1995, but he steadily lost support in successive elections. Yesterday, he said he would formally resign once a special party meeting to elect a new leader had been called.

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