Anne Graham: I was touched that students wanted to remember my brother Edgar, decades after he was murdered

Last year was the 35th anniversary of the assassination of my brother Edgar Graham on the morning of 7th December 1983; a murder claimed by PIRA and celebrated by their supporters in the Students’ Union at Queen’s University, Belfast.

A QUB student addresses the audience at the inaugural Edgar Graham Remembrance seminar held at Riddel Hall, Queens on December 9 2019
A QUB student addresses the audience at the inaugural Edgar Graham Remembrance seminar held at Riddel Hall, Queens on December 9 2019

I was approached then by students of the university who believed that Edgar’s contribution to public and academic life should be recognised and offered their help and support to do so.

Ours is not a political family and at the time of the murder and subsequent anniversaries we have chosen to mark the occasion privately.

Last year that resulted in a dignified wreath-laying ceremony where Edgar’s body had fallen in University Square.

The 35th anniversary commemoration of the academic and lawyer Edgar Graham, at the location on the edge of Queen's University where, when he was between lectures, he was shot dead at close range by two IRA terrorists. That 2018 event led to the 2019 seminar

The South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) which supports victims and survivors provided invaluable support.

Given that the university itself has always sought to distance itself from recognising Edgar’s achievements in public life I was concerned about the safety of those wreaths but to my relief they were untouched.

People were in fact stopping to read the inscriptions about Edgar.

I was touched by the efforts of the students, particularly Calvin Reid, and by the response to the event.

Edgar Graham, Ulster Unionist MLA and Queen's University lecturer, shot dead at point blank range by the IRA in December 1983 near the university

Commemoration is not a simple matter for victims of our Troubles.

It can be an opportunity for others to revisit the hurt and pain inflicted or to use the occasion for political grandstanding.

The purpose then and this year too was to mark Edgar’s contribution in his short career which was terminated so brutally after just four years in public affairs.

It has been a wonder to me how, 36 years after his murder, his name is still so often referenced not only for what he achieved but also for what he could have achieved.

Panel members from the inaugural Edgar Graham Remembrance seminar held at Riddel Hall, Queens on December 9 2019. From left Assistant chief constable George Clarke, ex SDLP MLA Alban Maginnis, event chair Ann Graham, historian Lord Paul Bew and News Letter deputy editor Ben Lowry. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press

Edgar has been described as an activist academic, seeking to bridge the gap between the universities and the community by direct involvement in democratic politics.

He eschewed any involvement with paramilitaries and remained first and foremost a democrat and a lawyer, using words, not weapons.

Edgar was and is known for standing four-square for the rule of law so the topic for the seminar ‘Is Our Criminal Justice System Working?’ was a fitting subject.

I welcome the support of SEFF in facilitating the seminar.

It is one group which has publicly consistently supported victims and also opposed violence as clearly unnecessary and unjust.

I was honoured that we were able to secure such esteemed panel members for the Inaugural seminar, viz: the academic and peer (Lord) Paul Bew, the barrister and former SDLP politician Alban Maginness, the PSNI assistant chief constable George Clarke and the News Letter deputy editor, Ben Lowry.

I was also delighted that so many friends and colleagues from the legal profession and politics joined family and other friends.

The evening more than fulfilled my expectations.

The speakers were eloquent and kindly prefaced their remarks with tributes to Edgar.

Lord Bew had personal recollections of that day in University Square. He also remarked that Edgar is not forgotten in the House of Lords where Lord Bew now sits.

I hope and pray that as Northern Ireland continues to be convulsed by rancour and division that people and particularly politicians will consider carefully what they say and do so that we never again sink into the abyss of hatred and intolerance which led to Edgar’s murder.

On the evening I listed the many members of the legal profession who were murdered, sometimes along with their families, many just for being a Catholic in legal office.

Ann Travers kindly supported me at the event.

I regret all those deaths and continue to condemn the murders of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson without any reciprocity.

As Kenny Donaldson of SEFF said, many people cannot condemn the murders of both Edgar and Mr Finucane, but our message is to consistently condemn the violence that once engulfed Northern Ireland.

Edgar Graham was my big brother.

He didn’t deserve to die and I still feel his loss.

I am eternally grateful to those who honoured Edgar’s memory and made the seminar such a success.

In the Members’ Lobby at Stormont there is a memorial tablet for which I chose the inscription ‘Keep Alive The Light of Justice’.

It is my earnest wish that there will be those who keep that light burning.