The “minimal” cost of a plaque to commemorate murdered Ulster Unionist Assemblyman Edgar Graham led to high-level private discussions about whether public money could be used.
The memorial, which had a projected cost of £150 —the equivalent of £430 today — was inscribed in the members’ lobby in Parliament Buildings and MLAs still pass it as they enter the chamber today.
Despite the widespread disgust at the IRA murder of the bright young politician in December 1983, some officials were concerned as to whether such expenditure could be legally made from the Assembly’s budget.
The lawyer/politician was murdered at the age of 29 by two gunmen as he stood chatting to fellow UUP member Dermot Nesbitt at Queen’s University in Belfast.
The Assembly had voted to erect the memorial but the Assembly had no authority to incur expenditure, leading to fears among some officials that a precedent would be set.
Officials also highlighted that a memorial for the murdered Tory MP Airey Neave in Westminster had not been paid for from public funds.
A submission from Ashley Ray in the Department of Finance said that the Airey Neave case “clearly points to there being very considerable doubt about using public funds for the purpose of memorial plaques” but also highlighted the likely local reaction if the Government refused to pay for the plaque.
A two-page memo sent by Sir Ewart Bell, head of the Civil Service, to the Secretary of State said: “The Secretary of State will wish to consider whether this expenditure is a politically defensible charge on public funds. My own view, with which Dr Quigley [in the Department of Finance] concurs, is that Edgar Graham died as a result, at least in part, of his stance on security issues as a Member of the Assembly, that there was a widespread sense of community revulsion at his murder and that...the cost of the plaque should be met out of the Assembly’s Vote.”
A note from the Secretary of State’s private secretary said that he agreed with Sir Ewart that the plaque should be paid for from public funds.
And a January 1984 memo from D Gilliland to Sir Ewart said: “Whatever the cost of the plaque may be (and it will be minimal) it would be appropriate that it should be met out of the Assembly’s Vote.
“Furthermore, I think that the earliest opportunity should be taken to make public that this is the Secretary of State’s wish.”
Sculptor in price dispute
There was dispute between the Assembly authorities and Jones Brothers Monumental Sculptors in Belfast over the price of Edgar Graham’s memorial.
A letter from an Assembly clerk, Dr Peter Smyth, complained of a significant increase in the bill submitted (£240 plus VAT) from what he said had been agreed before the work – inscribing Euripides’ quote ‘Keep alive the light of justice’ at the request of the Graham family – (£136 plus VAT). The Assembly agreed to pay half the difference after the sculptor claimed he had been forced to stop during Assembly sittings.