Sister of Edgar Graham: With no prospect of justice for my murdered brother, I fight to protect his legacy

On December 7 1983 my brother Edgar Graham paused in University Square on the way to his work as a law lecturer in Queen’s Law Faculty to chat to a colleague.

By Anne Graham
Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 5:10 pm
Updated Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 9:40 pm
Edgar Graham, on the day he was called to the bar, left, with his sister Anne, below centre, and father Norman, top right, and mother Anna, right. This image was taken a few years before his murder in 1983 by the IRA, when he was aged 29
Edgar Graham, on the day he was called to the bar, left, with his sister Anne, below centre, and father Norman, top right, and mother Anna, right. This image was taken a few years before his murder in 1983 by the IRA, when he was aged 29

Moments later a gunman came behind him and shot him several times in the back of the head. He died there on the pavement.

You may be familiar with the photo of his covered body there, his briefcase by his side. Shortly afterwards I was at the scene which is forever etched in my memory.

No one has been convicted of Edgar’s murder. Sinn Fein and many students at Queen’s celebrated the murder and Gerry Adams continues to refuse to condemn it. Members of Sinn Fein have been given the opportunity to say sorry to me and have declined.

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Looking back, Edgar entered public life with the goal of strengthening the moderate forces in Northern Ireland and was duly elected to the Stormont Assembly on October 20 1982 as an Ulster Unionist member for South Belfast.

Edgar wanted good accountable devolved government here and believed in the rule of law. His focus in the assembly was on security and devolution matters. He began also to address the claims of discrimination from the minority Catholic community.

[Unionists are] prepared to envisage a Bill of Rights to protect minority ... 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 (Official Report 11 May 1983).

The Coroner Mr Tom Elliott said at Edgar’s inquest in 1985: “No doubt his skill in advocacy of the cause he put forward was a great thorn in the flesh of some people who did not agree. They did not feel able to meet his arguments in debate in a proper and democratic fashion... ”

I quote also Judge Carl McGowan, US Court of Appeals, “[Edgar] was a strikingly intelligent and personable young man, held in the highest respect by the Chief Justice of the United States, as well as the American Faculty and his fellow students”[Salzburg Seminar on American Studies 1982].”

I chose the words ‘Keep Alive the Light of Justice’ for the memorial tablet in Stormont kindly organised by the Speaker Jim Kilfedder but today, almost 40 years later, it saddens me to say there is no prospect of justice for Edgar’s murder; rather I have to fight to protect Edgar’s legacy and reputation.

As has been said Edgar was a thorn in the flesh but not just of republican terrorists.

I need to spell this out because I have waged a battle on Twitter against attempts to smear Edgar with purported justification for his murder eg he was carrying a gun — yes, a personal protection weapon provided by the police because of the threats on his life; he supported capital punishment – no; he was working with loyalist paramilitaries and he was providing information on Catholic students at Queen’s to be murdered; in fact in reports following Edgar’s murder Andy Tyrie the UDA commander confirmed that they had been approached by PIRA about setting Edgar up for murder citing his support for the supergrass trials.

He stated that the UDA had not agreed and passed a warning on to members of the Ulster Unionist Party.

When challenged, these people are never able to justify these and other smears; clearly to this day Edgar represents a threat for those who disagreed enough to commit murder and have since been brainwashing others into believing these lies to justify the murder. By their logic I would be justified in taking up arms myself.

Equally there have been the attempts to make Edgar a Protestant equivalent to the solicitor Pat Finucane by calling him the ‘Protestant Human Rights Lawyer’ in the pointless game of whataboutery.

Edgar did spend many hours outside his work as a public representative and lecturer working on the Article Two legal submissions to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of 32 Fermanagh women widowed by the IRA in their sectarian campaign of ethnic cleansing.

I do not, however, believe that was the reason for his murder.

Edgar was a democratic politician and he was murdered for defending his opinions. That remains a significant challenge for Sinn Fein.

Considering the wider legacy issue the debate in the wider public forum has been very dispiriting.

These are just a few of the ways in which justice for victims has been gradually weakened:

• The release under the Belfast Agreement of paramilitary prisoners who had served two years;

• On The Run letters issued in secret to protect republicans from prosecution;

• The effective amnesty provided by the guarantees not to use forensic evidence from decommissioned weapons;

• The extradition arrangements to protect ‘political’ offenders.

Truth, justice and the rule of law ought to be watchwords for the legal system in Northern Ireland. Speaking as a lay person it seems to me that the legacy proposals take these as exclusionary.

I do not see how truth seeking can be any substitute for justice and the rule of law particularly given my experience of the steady and persistent attempts to re-write my brother’s story.

Like many I fear that truth and justice may be left to be impacted most by the victim makers. To be honest I now feel like a second class citizen. The supposed Historical Enquiries Team (HET) investigation failed us by never providing any opportunity for questions and dismissing any investigation into who ordered the murder.

I have no expectation that the people who ordered the assassination of my brother will be charged never mind convicted but I have seen no serious attempt to explain why that possibility should be taken away.

The truest comment has probably been that of Barra McGrory, then director of public prosecutions, about managing the needs and expectations of victims — seeming to mean don’t expect anything.

The Belfast Agreement (1998) has been presented to the world as the triumphant bringing of peace in Northern Ireland. I think most people in NI understood that it was a fudge and largely an attempt to move forward without seriously attempting to address the past.

The weaknesses of that agreement are being laid bare in the morass that now exists around legacy issues.

We feel let down. Despite all the think tanks and research projects there is very little evidence of any real concern.

Rather than being proactive it seems reactive so that those shout loudest and are pursuing a political agenda are given the most attention and influence over proposals.

Whatever happened to the rule of law? Civil society is failing the victims of terrorism.

We are expected to move on but that seems to mean rather that victims are to be forgotten and left to find our own way through our pain.

Like Sir Declan Morgan the recently retired lord chief justice I fear that the hurt of victims will again be simply passed down the generations.

Finally our minister Rev Dr Alan McAloney spoke at the dedication of the Stormont tablet of the terrible act which brought so young and promising a life to a close and said “... violence can plunge a family into the deepest of sorrows and rob a country of the ablest of men but it could not and cannot destroy values, truth and integrity”.

I can only hope that remains so as I also fear that truth, justice and the rule of law face great challenges.

Edgar knew the risks he was taking but he never abandoned reasoned judgement and kept steady and steadfast in his purpose.

He paid the price he knew might be exacted from him. As you read this tomorrow I will be remembering my brother.

“To live in hearts we leave is not to die.” (Thomas Campbell)

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