Former US President Bill Clinton has led tributes to David Trimble, stating that his “lifetime of service” helped bring peace to Northern Ireland.
The 77-year-old peer and ex-leader of the Ulster Unionist Party was one of the principal architects of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement that ended decades of conflict in the region.
Lord Trimble, who jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize along with late SDLP leader John Hume, died on Monday following an illness.
His death comes amid another political crisis at Stormont, with the DUP blocking the creation of a powersharing administration in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.
A planned recall sitting of the troubled Assembly on Tuesday, which would have expected to witness heated exchanges over the current deadlock, has been postponed as a mark of respect.
In a statement, Mr Clinton said: “Hillary and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Lord David Trimble, a leader of courage, vision, and principle whose lifetime of service helped bring peace to Northern Ireland.
“Time after time during the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement, he made the hard choices over the politically expedient ones because he believed future generations deserved to grow up free from violence and hatred.
“His faith in the democratic process allowed him to stand up to strong opposition in his own community, persuade them of the merits of compromise, and share power with his former adversaries.
“His legacy will endure in all who are living better lives because of him today.
“Hillary and I send our thoughts and prayers to his wife, Daphne, his entire family, and all the people who loved him and were inspired by his service.”
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson described Lord Trimble as a “titan of unionism”.
Sir Jeffrey quit the Ulster Unionist Party in 2003 and defected to the DUP after he disagreed with his then party leader over the Good Friday Agreement and IRA decommissioning.
But he told the BBC Good Morning Ulster programme: “There is no doubt that David was a titan of unionism.
“He was someone who believed passionately in the union and I have to say that despite our differences in the latter years when I was in the Ulster Unionist Party, he was someone I got on very well with.”
On Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Lord Trimble’s achievements would never be forgotten.
“He was a giant of British and international politics and will be long remembered for his intellect, personal bravery and fierce determination to change politics for the better,” he said.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin credited his “central contribution” in efforts to secure peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.
“All of us in politics at the time witnessed his crucial and courageous role in the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement and his leadership in building support in his party and his community for the Agreement,” he said.
Irish President Michael D Higgins praised Lord Trimble’s “life of public service”.
Former UK and Irish prime ministers, Sir Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, both of whom were involved in the intensive Good Friday negotiations, also paid tribute.
Sir Tony said his contribution was “immense, unforgettable and frankly irreplaceable” while Mr Ahern described him as a “courageous” leader.
Ex-Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, a once bitter political adversary of the unionist leader, thanked him for helping to get the Good Friday Agreement over the line in 1998.
Current UUP leader Doug Beattie hailed the former first minister as “a man of courage and vision”.
“He chose to grasp the opportunity for peace when it presented itself and sought to end the decades of violence that blighted his beloved Northern Ireland,” he said.
Announcing the postponement of the recalled sitting on Monday evening, outgoing Stormont speaker Alex Maskey said he would be making arrangements to allow MLAs to formally offer their condolences and pay tributes.
“I will announce further details when arrangements have been confirmed,” he added.