Reflections on the murder of Edgar Graham at QUB in 1983



UUP politician and academic from Northern Ireland, Edgar Graham. Photo Source: Belfast Newsletter

James Carson, Deputy Editor.

Last week marked the 35th anniversary of the murder which receives little of the attention it deserves. On the morning of the 7th December 1983, Edgar Samuel David Graham was shot dead by the Provisional IRA on the campus of Queen’s University, Belfast.

Edgar was an individual flagged to me from a young age as my grandparents recognised him as the forerunner of leaders such as David Trimble within the Ulster Unionist Party.

As a Law student at Queen’s, it’s a privilege to follow in the footsteps of Edgar. He graduated with his LLB from our institution before acquiring his PhD at the University of Oxford and being admitted to the Northern Irish Bar. Edgar represents the importance of returning to your community and dutifully, he returned to QUB in 1979 as a lecturer in Law.

As an active member of the Ulster Unionist Party, Edgar was elected in 1982 Assembly Election as a representative of South Belfast. He was a visionary before his time, guided by his ideals and a man who many believed was destined to lead his party.

His belief in justice, integrated education and human rights reflect my personal priorities and the natural path to healing the divisions in Northern Ireland which linger to this day.

Edgar was gunned down as he was returning to his office by three members of the IRA while chatting to his colleague Dermot Nesbitt. He died instantly, in a place of learning and respect where many of us frequently pass, oblivious to a time where the idea of forming a better.

There can be little doubt that Edgar was killed due to his political future, the values of justice and respect which he embodied are the ones which Northern Ireland urgently requires today.

Edgar’s vision and hope for Northern Ireland are ones which put his life at risk, and saw him savagely murdered for the most heinous of faults; a desire to build a better future for Northern Ireland together.

It deeply troubles me that an issue like this is one of schism. There cannot be any dispute that Edgar was murdered in cold blood; his only crime was an aspiration of peace. Lord Trimble noted Edgar’s willingness to listen to the party which represented his murderers some 15 years prior to the Belfast Agreement and contemplate forging a peace at the height of the troubles and prevent another decade of senseless violence.

That someone would be killed on our campus is a terrifying prospect to me, as a twenty-one-year-old who appreciates the sacrifices made to allow my generation to study without fearing violence in our joint place of learning. It is abhorrent to think that my peers of that day celebrated Edgar’s death; in hindsight I hope that those who did regret such a repugnant gesture to the loss of a human life.

If the legacy of our troubled past highlights one thing to me, it is the intense suffering of the families who lost their loved ones during a time where indiscriminate bereavement seemed to reach all communities. The tragedy of losing a loved one who longed for a tomorrow where families would not suffer this grief is one which I struggle to express.

The need for the best and the brightest to be recognised in Northern Ireland is essential for our future, yet we cannot forget the past where both communities were robbed of the minds which should have helped build our shared tomorrow.

At the plaque commemorating Edgar’s life at Stormont, there is a pertinent quote; “keep alive the light of justice.” Edgar was never afraid to aspire to better, and his willingness to articulate hope and vision lead to his death long before his time.

If his life is to mean anything, it is that we continue to keep vision in our minds and hope in our hearts, for then the light of justice will never be extinguished.


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