The sister of a young lawyer shot dead by the IRA on the edge of Queen’s University has challenged Michelle O’Neill over the slaying.
Anne Graham, whose brother Edgar was murdered in 1983, asked the Sinn Fein vice-president about the attack during the latter’s talk at Queen’s on Wednesday night (see below information on Edgar Graham).
Ms O’Neill, who is SF’s northern leader, was delivering a talk under the university’s Policy Engagement Lecture Series at the Peter Froggatt centre.
In her 30 minute address, Ms O’Neill was fiercely critical of the DUP and the Conservative government on a range of issues, from the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal to the Tory programme of “austerity”.
She was scathing about the DUP blocking a range of rights and said that there could be no return to Stormont without reform on how it is run.
After the talk, there were various questions from the floor. One young woman thanked Ms O’Neill for a being an “inspiration” and a man thanked her for protecting his rights as an Irish speaker.
At one point when Ms O’Neill said that there must not be a government in which there was discrimination, there was loud applause.
But there were critical questions too: a man asked about the inconsistency of Sinn Fein attacking the Tory involvement with both the DUP and NI politics given that SF aspires to be in power in the Republic.
A young man said that he was disabled and he challenged her about abortion policy towards disabled foetuses, while another asked why she would not ditch her Irish language red line.
Another praised her for speaking on behalf of victims of state violence, but asked why she did not speak up for other victims.
These and other questions were taken in batches of three, and then answered by Ms O’Neill.
Then Ms Graham rose to ask a question.
She said: “My brother Edgar was a member of the previous assembly, he was murdered just yards from where we are tonight. Gerry Fitt at the time said in the House of Lords his murder would be seen as a direct attack on the people who voted for him and those he represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“I am just an ordinary unionist, I am not a political unionist. I am very grateful to you Michelle for coming here tonight and giving me the opportunity to speak to you.
“And it has been reported that you have refused to condemn my brother’s murder. I have no difficulty in condemning the murders of people like Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, who was at Queen’s law faculty at the same time that I was. Eamonn Collins was there at the same time as well and he was brutally murdered. And I couldn’t cite a list of the people in the legal system who were murdered
“But I would just like to ask you, what is your moral compass, I hear what you say that there is a narrative on the past, we won’t agree on it. I’ve had that said to me by other Sinn Fein representatives so I am happy to speak with anyone from Sinn Fein or SDLP or anywhere.
“I didn’t grow up a bigot, my brother didn’t grow up a bigot, I would like us all to live peacefully in the island of Ireland and I have no objections to a united Ireland, in fact I have greater regrets now than I probably ever had simply because I would see it as a victory for the people who murdered my brother, so I want to ask you, my question is really, what is your moral compass and what can you offer to me an ordinary unionist?
“To me murder is murder and how can I respect you when you fail to condemn my brother’s murder? Thank you.”
Ms O’Neill then answered other questions that had been asked alongside Ms Graham before addressing her as follows: “To Anne I would say: I am sorry that you lost your brother. I would say that, thank you for what you have said in terms of engaging with me tonight. I am very happy to talk to you at any stage, at any time.
“I think that it is so important that we try to deal with the past in such a sensitive way, you accepted that, or you said that some people said to you before about different narratives , there are different narratives and I think that is the first step to actually allowing us to move forward is actually recognising that we are not going to agree. We are not going to agree on the past.
“But if you accept that as the premise to move forward then that in itself is a significant move forward.
“I can promise you it is not about victories. I said that when I spoke earlier. It can’t be a victory for anybody. A new Ireland can’t be built on a victory. A new Ireland has to be built actually on genuine principles
“This young fellow talked about what are the policies? How do we design the future together? What is it that makes people, what is going to make people from a unionist background, with a British identity perhaps is a better way to put it, what is going to give a British identity the comfort to know that there will be no discrimination, that they will not be disrespected, that they were, would be equal citizens in a new Ireland?
“So I think that he have a big, big job of work to do in order to try and convince people of what that looks like.
“... Anne talked about moral compasses, and what guides me?
“What guides me is fairness, what guides me is equality, what guides me is genuinely being respectful and listening, being tolerant, making sure that we design a future where everyone feels comfortable that they can belong, that they have a position, that we don’t have minorities or majorities, so we actually work together and try to bring a bout change and try to make sure that no young person ever has to fight the battles that we fought in the past.”
After the lecture and questions, Mairtin Ó Muilleoir MLA of Sinn Fein approached Ms Graham and brought her down to speak to Ms O’Neill.
Ms Graham later told the News Letter: “... I said this line that we’ll never agree on the past, that we’ve different narratives: to me murder is murder, it was kind of skirting round the issue, because I think well unless you can agree that murder is murder what, how can you expect anyone to vote for you or respect you?
“She was being pleasant, she’s saying she will meet me and saying we are never going to agree on everything but she regrets every murder. But it is still a bit fudged to me, it’s still a fudge.”
• Edgar Graham was born in 1954 and educated at Queen’s and Oxford universities.
He became a barrister and a law lecturer at Queen’s, and was involved in the Ulster Unionist Party’s youth wing.
He was elected to Stormont in 1982 for South Belfast and tipped as a future UUP leader before being shot dead at point blank range in December 1983 at the edge of Queen’s.
Not long before the murder he argued in favour of supergrass trials at a debate at the students union, where he met a furious reception. On news of his murder weeks later, a cheer went up in the union.
The IRA said his killing “should be a salutary lesson to those loyalists who stand foursquare behind the laws and forces of oppression of the nationalist people”.