Edgar Graham

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Edgar Graham, MPA
Edgar Graham.jpg
Member of the
Northern Ireland Assembly
In office
20 October 1982 – 7 December 1983
Preceded by Seat Created
Succeeded by Frank Millar Jr
Constituency South Belfast
Personal details
Born 1954
Northern Ireland
Died (1983-12-07)7 December 1983 (aged 29)
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Political party Ulster Unionist Party
Alma mater Queen's University Belfast
University of Oxford
Profession Barrister
For the pop musician, see Ugly Casanova.

Edgar Samuel David Graham, MPA, BL (1954 – 7 December 1983), was an Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) politician and academic from Northern Ireland. He was perceived as a rising star of both legal studies and Unionism until he was killed on 7 December 1983 by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).


A graduate of the Queen's University of Belfast in 1976 and working on a Doctorate for the University of Oxford, Edgar Graham was called to the Bar of Northern Ireland. He became a member of the Queen's University Belfast law faculty (from 1979), lecturing in public law, and was a law faculty colleague of David Trimble. A former Chairman of the Ulster Young Unionist Council, Graham was widely seen as a possible future leader of the UUP.

A member of the Ulster Unionist Party since joining the Ballymena branch at the age of 14 he progressed through the party. Contrary to some statements he was never a member of Vanguard and had no sympathy with its activities.[citation needed] As Leader of the Young Unionists he revived that part of the Party and was quickly seen as representing a new enlightened brand of Unionism. He continued this into the senior party. In 1982 he addressed the Conservative Party Conference on the subject of Northern Ireland and was singled out as a leader of the future. This led to international invitations such as to Harvard Summer School for leading young lawyers. He was critical of both the British government's perceived indecisiveness and (more quietly) the UUP leadership under James Molyneaux[1]

Graham was elected a member of the 1982 Northern Ireland Assembly for South Belfast.


In mid-morning on 7 December 1983, while chatting to UUP party and Queen's colleague Dermot Nesbitt at the University Square side of the main campus library, he was shot in the head a number of times by an IRA gunman and died almost instantly. He was 29 years old. Two persons were later convicted of withholding evidence from the police, but no one was ever convicted for his murder.[2]

In a communique taking responsibility for the killing, the IRA command 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." IRA members said that Graham was targeted because of aid and advice he had reportedly given to the Northern Ireland Prison Service[3]

Former IRA member turned police informer Sean O'Callaghan in his book The Informer suggested that the IRA killed him because he was regarded by a journalist as "potentially the most effective political opponent facing Sinn Féin that the Ulster Unionists had yet produced" and likely to become the party leader.[4]

Graham had also gained attention for his strong arguments publicly supporting internment, the revocation of Special Category Status for republican prisoners, and the British government's network of informers.[3][5]

He had been seen on BBC Northern Ireland, criticising the Thatcher government for not taking a hard enough line against Republican prisoners and hunger strikers.[6]

After Graham's killing, an expression of sympathy was made by Seanad Éireann

I would like the Seanad to note with horror and dismay the death of the Assemblyman, Edgar Graham, who was murdered outside Queen's University, Belfast, this morning. It has been said by a noted writer that in the death of every man each of us dies a little. I think this is horribly true for us here in Ireland today that for every one of these victims of violence not only do we die a little but our hopes for our country die a little with every one of these outrages.

The resultant Assembly by-election on 1 March 1984 was won unopposed by then Ulster Unionist Party Chief Executive Frank Millar Jr.[7]

The UUP leader, Jim (later Lord) Molyneaux, remarked

"Had Mr Graham not been murdered he would have become the leader of our party, such was his calibre." [8][9]

In honour and remembrance to Edgar Graham there is an inscription at the entrance of the debating hall at Stormont that reads:


Sylvia, Lady Hermon, who was then a lawyer, was in the students’ union at the time the murder was announced, and has spoken of her revulsion at hearing students cheering news of the killing, and of how she vowed never to set foot in the union again.[11]


Graham's death came just two years after the IRA assassination of the South Belfast M.P. Robert Bradford. To this day, Graham is often spoken of by Unionist political leaders.[citation needed]

David Trimble

Some had been targeted by republicans because of their involvement in Unionist politics. Many knew Robert Bradford and Edgar Graham both murdered for defending the Union. Despite this they were prepared to share power with Sinn Féin. This displayed a magnanimity, and generosity of spirit which unfortunately has not yet been reciprocated by republicans. When we ‘jumped first’ and established the devolved Executive last November, the IRA just sat on its guns and did nothing with the result that the British Government had to suspend the Executive.

[citation needed]

Ian Paisley Junior, 20 May 2007.

"Queens University is today a very different place than it was in the mid 80s when I matriculated. At the height of the troubles, post the hunger strikes and shortly after the murder of Edgar Graham not far from this hall. It was for many Protestants an inhospitable place ... [H]e would honour the memory of men like Sir Norman Stronge, his son James, Councillor Charlie Armstrong, the Reverend Robert Bradford, Senator John Barnhill, and Edgar Graham who were killed by thugs under the guise of a perverted political philosophy ... [T]he RUC officer who trained Edgar Graham in the use of a personal firearm, just weeks before his untimely murder, told me that he would not have known what hit him, for it happened so quickly and was done from behind, in a cowardly fashion. Members here today know what hit Edgar Graham, and who organised the attack. I sat this morning, with my head bowed, as we witnessed an attempt by Her Majesty's Government to place in positions of power those who signed Mr Graham's death warrant. Those who, this morning, were put forward for positions in the Government of Northern Ireland have been responsible for terrorising the very community over which they were to exercise authority."

[citation needed]

Families Acting for Innocent Relatives

"It is also puzzling for Unionists why Sinn Féin/IRA are campaigning so vigorously to defend the reputation of Mr Finucane as that of a "human rights lawyer" whilst justifying their murder of the Protestant Human Rights Lawyer, Mr Edgar Graham at Queen's University."

[citation needed]

David Trimble has invoked his friend's killing to show both that the Unionist community had suffered greatly at the hands of republicans, and that more moderate Unionists were willing to take bold moves (especially support for the Good Friday Agreement) and were willing put their suffering behind them.[12]

Journalist Ed Moloney, in his 2003 book, "A Secret History of the IRA", contends that Graham's killing was ordered by a restive IRA unit, the Belfast Brigade and Ivor Bell, as part of a campaign that was a direct challenge to Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams' call for a more "controlled and disciplined" campaign twinned with a growing parliamentary strategy. Moloney argues that Belfast area attacks by the IRA in late 1983, because of their backlash in the middle classes of both communities, in fact strengthened Adams and Sinn Féin's political path.[13]

Ironically, despite Graham's murder, violence in Northern Ireland actually continued in a pattern of decline in 1983, with 77 deaths, down from 97 the previous year.[14] The British Army suffered only five deaths in 1983, its lowest number since 1971, while combined security services suffered 33 deaths (a drop from 40 the year before), and civilian deaths were recorded as 44, the lowest number since 1970.[15]


  1. ^ The real lessons of Ulster by Dean Godson, Prospect Magazine, Issue 140, November 2007
    see also BBC NI Television News 1983 and 1981, Mon 26 Sep 1983, Tue 29 Sep 1981, Tue 13 Oct 1981, Wed 16 Nov 1983 (in which Edgar Graham says UVF wanted IRA to kill Ulster Unionist during assembly debate on prison segregation.)
  2. ^ Details on the attack, see: PROTESTANT PARTY LEADER SLAIN IN ULSTER, The New York Times, 8 December 1983,
    NORTHERN IRELAND, Terrorist Activities, reports of British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland's office, in answer to questions: 16 April 1999. The government account reads:

    "Mr. Edgar Graham: At approximately 10.50 am on 7 December 1983, at University Square, Belfast, Mr. Graham was shot dead. The murder was claimed by the Irish Republican Army. RUC investigations resulted in one person being convicted of making property available and withholding information and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment suspended for 3 years. Another person, convicted of withholding information, was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment suspended for 2 years. A number of other persons were arrested and interviewed in relation to this murder but released without charge."

  3. ^ a b "Tim Pat Coogan (1993) The IRA. Chap.33: The Green Book: I". Cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 2010-11-15. 
  4. ^ O'Callaghan, Sean (1999). The Informer. Great Britain: Corgi Books. p.389
  5. ^ Andrew Boyd: The Informers: A Chilling Account of the Supergrasses in Northern Ireland. Mercier (1984) pp. 85-86.
  6. ^ Dr Martin Melaugh. "(Tue 29th Sep 1981, Tue 13th Oct 1981)". Cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 2010-11-15. 
  7. ^ Nicholas Whyte. "Northern Ireland Elections Commission". Ark.ac.uk. Retrieved 2010-11-15. 
  8. ^ "IRA victim Edgar Graham remembered". Newsletter.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-11-15. 
  9. ^ New York Times, 8th December 1983
  10. ^ Godson, Dean (2004). Himself Alone: David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism. Harper Perennial. p. 79. ISBN 0-00-717999-5. 
  11. ^ http://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/politics/latest/growing-influence-of-unionism-s-rising-star-1-4633974
  12. ^ "David Trimble quoted using Graham as an example in his first speech to the Shadow Assembly, 1 July 2003". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-11-15. 
  13. ^ Ed Moloney. A Secret History of the IRA, pp. 243 & 317, (2002). ISBN 0-7139-9665-X
    Also see: Brendan O'Brien. The Long War: The IRA & Sinn Féin, p. 133, (1999). ISBN 0-86278-606-1 on the marginalisation of Bell.
  14. ^ Table NI-SEC-04: Deaths (number) due to the security situation in Northern Ireland (only), 1969-2002.
  15. ^ Chronological List of Deaths, by year, 1969-2001, Malcolm Sutton, CAIN University of Ulster.
    CAIN: Northern Ireland Society - Security and Defence statistics 1969-2001
    "NI-SEC-06: Security related incidents (number) in Northern Ireland: shootings" 1982/547,1983/424 lowest since 1970 (213), bombings were up (266 from 219 in 82), but the 82 number was the lowest since 1970, and the 83 number was second lowest.
    "NI-SEC-09: Number of people charged with terrorist and other serious offences" 1983/613, lowest since 1980 (550), second lowest since 1972.
    "NI-SEC-05: Persons injured (number) due to the security situation in Northern Ireland (only)" 1983: 1983/ Police: 142 (up from 99 in 82, but second lowest since 1968) / British Army:66/UDR-RIR:22/Civilian:280/Total:510 (lowest since 1968 - 379)

External links[edit]


Northern Ireland Assembly (1982)
New assembly MPA for Belfast South
Succeeded by
Frank Millar Jr