He was killed be­cause his de­cency ter­ri­fied the paramil­i­taries

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - Alex Kane

Ifirst met Edgar Gra­ham at an Ul­ster Union­ist event in 1977. He was only 23, a year older than me, yet he al­ready looked and sounded like some­one who was des­tined to be a key player in the party.

He wasn’t a shouter or rab­ble-rouser. He thought be­fore he spoke, and when he spoke it was clear that he had given se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion to the is­sue un­der dis­cus­sion.

That in it­self made him dif­fer­ent, for this, af­ter all, was a dif­fi­cult, dan­ger­ous time, when union­ists tended to favour the knee­jerk rant over the cal­cu­lated re­flec­tion.

By the time he was shot dead, 35 years ago, aged 29, Edgar was more than a key player; he was al­ready be­ing spo­ken of as a fu­ture leader.

He had been elected chair­man of the Young Union­ist Coun­cil in 1981 and had helped to re­form and re-en­er­gise it.

He had also been elected hon­orary sec­re­tary of the Ul­ster Union­ist Coun­cil (the party’s govern­ing body), af­ford­ing him enor­mous in­put and in­flu­ence.

In 1982 he won a seat to the ‘new’ Assem­bly, rep­re­sent­ing South Belfast, and within a mat­ter of months had earned a rep­u­ta­tion for “an im­pres­sive com­mand of par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure which few could match”.

But by then he had also at­tracted the un­wel­come at­ten­tion of paramil­i­taries from both sides, not least for his sup­port of the su­per­grass tri­als (he was a bar­ris­ter and law lec­turer), which were wreak­ing havoc within their ranks.

Af­ter an emo­tion­ally charged de­bate in Queen’s Stu­dents’ Union, in which he made the case for con­tin­u­ing the tri­als, a col­league noted: “I felt afraid for him that day and in that en­vi­ron­ment, but I did not re­alise then the sig­nif­i­cance of it.” That col­league is now the MP for North Down.

He also op­posed the sep­a­ra­tion of pris­on­ers in the Maze, caus­ing the UVF to is­sue a state­ment: “Does Assem­bly­man Gra­ham re­ally speak on be­half of the UUP and its elected representatives? They will be judged by their si­lence.”

At that point, he was car­ry­ing a per­sonal pro­tec­tion weapon be­cause po­lice in­tel­li­gence sug­gested ter­ror­ists on both sides wanted to kill him.

He was un­am­bigu­ous in his con­dem­na­tion of paramil­i­tarism — all of it. He viewed them all as crim­i­nals who should not be al­lowed to hide be­hind ‘po­lit­i­cal’ jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for their ter­ror­ism.

That’s why the IRA chose to mur­der him. That’s why they fired a num­ber of bul­lets into his head at point-blank range as he chat­ted with a friend, Der­mot Nes­bitt, on Univer­sity Av­enue.

His mur­der, said the IRA, “should be a salu­tary les­son to those loy­al­ists who stand foursquare be­hind the laws and forces of op­pres­sion of the na­tion­al­ist peo­ple”.

Gerry Adams re­fused to con­demn the killing, say­ing “(I’m) not pre­pared to join the hyp­o­crit­i­cal cho­rus of es­tab­lish­ment fig­ures who were vo­cal only in their con­dem­na­tion of IRA ac­tions and silent on Bri­tish ac­tions.”

No one from Sinn Fein or the IRA has ever con­demned his mur­der.

I re­mem­ber Edgar. De­cency and in­tegrity were em­bed­ded in his DNA. He was thought­ful and elo­quent. In his early 20s he had al­ready pro­vided am­ple ev­i­dence of the fresh think­ing that he was keen to bring to union­ism, al­though in some ways he was never a typ­i­cal union­ist. In­deed, he wasn’t even a typ­i­cal politi­cian.

Had he not been spo­ken of as a fu­ture leader, he might not have been tar­geted for mur­der.

Iron­i­cally, it was his soft voice and mea­sured tones that seemed to un­set­tle the IRA more than any­thing else.

They weren’t com­fort­able with that man­i­fes­ta­tion of union­ism, with some­one who wasn’t ‘your typ­i­cal union­ist.’

Edgar was mur­dered be­cause the IRA feared him. Feared what he stood for. He de­serves to be bet­ter re­mem­bered by to­day’s gen­er­a­tion.

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