Anne Graham: The IRA silenced my lawyer brother, Edgar, but his legacy lives on

It is 35 years since Belfast barrister and unionist politician Edgar Graham was murdered.

Thursday, 14th February 2019, 2:36 pm
Updated Monday, 18th February 2019, 10:27 am
Edgar Graham, Ulster Unionist MLA, barrister and Queen's University lecturer, shot dead at point blank range by the IRA in December 1983 near the university. His sister Anne says: "Edgar supported devolution and hoped at Stormont to extend his human rights work to examine discrimination of the minority Catholic community"

He was shot in the back of the head by PIRA gunmen possibly with the collusion of loyalist terrorists whilst on his way to work in a place of learning. Aged just 29, he was my older brother.

Our lives changed forever that day.

The murder was a deliberate decision to kill him, to silence moderate unionist and to intimidate moderate Catholics from aligning with such unionists.

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Anne Graham, centre holding wreath, alongside politicians, academics, students and other well wishers, on December 7 2018, marking the 35th anniversary of the murder of her brother Edgar, at the edge of Queen's University. Pic Pacemaker

Many of the judicial murders were not for any decisions they made but for the simple fact that they dared to accept judicial office although they were Catholics.

We come from a working class background in South Antrim and benefitted from the excellent education system in Northern Ireland and the liberal Presbyterian tradition.

In his human rights work Edgar dedicated many hours to working on advancing an application to the European Commission of Human Rights on behalf of 32 applicants, most of whom were widows from the border areas of Northern Ireland and victims of what amounted to an ethnic cleansing of Protestant residents.

His life and career was too short to reflect the promising start he had made. His best years were ahead of him.

Many young men from the unionist community were indeed intimidated away from Northern Ireland and particularly away from Queen’s University, Belfast. Many of those young men are now in positions of influence in Great Britain and further afield. Some keep in contact with me.

Though such a young man, cut off so early in his career, Edgar continues to have influence 35 years on.

Whilst PIRA did silence him, they could not have made a bigger mess of it if they had tried.

His legacy is assured and particularly so every time there is a refusal to condemn the murder.

At their conference the Irish Association of Law Teachers in Limerick observed a minute’s silence preceding a tribute to Edgar by the President of the Association and a press statement was issued expressing its revulsion at “the foul deed”.

I have previously published on Twitter the letter of tribute and condemnation of Edgar’s murder from Prof Kevin Boyle, People’s Democracy spokesman and NICRA Board member.

Edgar supported devolution and was hoping within a devolved Assembly to extend his human rights work to examine discrimination of the minority Catholic community in Northern Ireland:

[Unionists are] prepared to envisage a Bill of Rights to protect minority rights if they [minorities] felt they were being violated in any way; an independent judicial tribunal to deal with any complaints of violations of human rights. We are prepared to go some way … towards accommodating some of the claims made by the minority, and our points here have never been one of trying to establish a Protestant ascendancy in the province.

It is gratifying, however, to see that nationalists and republicans have such faith in British justice that it is their first port of call for redress for any grievance.

And we have seen how often that faith in British justice has been satisfied. Think of the Bloody Sunday campaigns, the pardons for the Birmingham Six.

What did NI unionists get from the Republic of Ireland? An Extradition Act 1985 which meant the murderers of my brother would not have been subject to extradition.

Targeting an individual for their political views was acceptable.

Edgar’s reputation is regularly attacked, deliberately and cruelly.

Perhaps that is a twisted tribute to the challenge he still represents.

He deserved to die, apparently, because he carried a gun.

He is accused of being a follower of Paisley, of being aligned with loyalists targeting Catholics.

Yes, he had a small gun for personal protection on the advice of the police because of the seriousness of the perceived threats to his life.

I was advised to follow the same personal protection measures as Edgar simply because I lived in the same house although I had no political involvement.

Ann Travers knows the PIRA disregard for family, pace Jude Collins.

Paisley attacked Edgar viciously.

Loyalist spokesmen threatened Edgar in the press and their terrorists possibly promised not to retaliate to Edgar’s murder.

Edgar was a decent human being who dedicated his short life to serving the community and aiding others.

I did not share all his views but I am enormously proud of him.

He did not deserve to die as he did. Nor did Pat Finucane.

I offer my sympathy to his family and my unconditional condemnation of his murder.