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A Hard-Line Unionist Leaves Marching for Peacemaking

David Trimble's recent efforts to bridge the divide in N. Ireland have won him friends - and new enemies.

It has been David Trimble's custom, since the age of 17, to don an orange sash and parade with his fellow Orangemen July 12 in remembrance of the 1690 defeat of the Catholic King, James I, by the Protestant William of Orange.

But this year Northern Ireland's new first minister did not march.

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Instead, Mr. Trimble put on a somber suit and prepared to meet the family of three Catholic brothers killed Sunday when a flaming gasoline bomb was thrown through a downstairs window in their home in Ballymoney.

The impression of Trimble as an inflexible hard-liner has seemed indelible since 1995, when he led an uncompromising battle for the right of the Orange Order to march into a Catholic nationalist enclave on the Garvaghy Road. And he is perhaps best remembered for clasping hands with the hard-line Protestant leader Ian Paisley for a victory dance through the streets.

Yet four years later, it is not Mr. Paisley's hand he is clasping.

Rather, Trimble is grasping the firm hand of friendship extended by Seamus Mallon, the Catholic nationalist politician elected as his deputy first minister. The pair were jointly selected two weeks ago by the newly elected shadow Assembly for Northern Ireland, despite attempts by Paisley to block them.

Since then, Trimble and Mr. Mallon have made good on their pledge to work for peace between Catholics and Protestants. Despite enormous pressure from hard-line unionists, Trimble has stood steadfastly with Mallon.

One Portadown unionist says many now regard Trimble as a traitor to their cause. "It will be a long time before he is welcome in the town," he says.

Indeed, throughout the current standoff in Portadown, where British police have refused to allow Orange Order marchers down the Garvaghy Road, speculation has surfaced that Trimble would not survive his new alliance.

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Although unionists backed the April peace agreement, they did so by only a small margin. And some unionists in the Trimble camp are believed to be reviewing their support for the deal.

With no real political power yet, it would have been tempting for Trimble to bail out and save his leadership. But the death of the Catholic children Sunday has changed the mood within unionism. After an influential Orangeman said any march on the Garvaghy Road now would be a "hollow victory," Trimble joined with Mallon in telling the Orangemen to "go home."

Monica McWilliams, a cross-community negotiator who watched from inside the peace talks as Trimble struggled toward a deal, said she is not surprised by his new stance.

"He has become known as a risk taker," she says."This was a test for him and he has lived up to it."

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