Graham, Edgar Samuel David (1954–1983), politician, was born 24 February 1954 at Massereene Hospital, Antrim, son of David Norman Graham of Whinney Hill, Randalstown, Co. Antrim, and his wife Annie Matilda (née Graham); he had one sister. Grahams had farmed in Randalstown for centuries but Norman Graham was a fitter. During Edgar's youth his family moved to Ballymena, Co. Antrim, where his father joined Gallaher's tobacco factory. Graham received his secondary education at Ballymena Academy, graduated with a law degree at QUB in 1976, and pursued postgraduate study at Trinity College, Oxford, from 1976. In 1975 Graham was vice-chair of the Queen's University Conservative and Unionist Association; in 1978 during his studies at Cambridge he joined the centre-right Bow group within the Conservative party. In 1979 he became lecturer in constitutional and European Community law at QUB and at the time of his death he was completing a doctorate.
Graham was called to the Northern Ireland bar in 1980, and swiftly established an outstanding reputation. He was assistant editor of the Bulletin of Northern Ireland Law, and in 1982 a fellow in European law at the Salzburg seminar. He made legal submissions to the European Commission of Human Rights on behalf of the widows of victims of terrorism. He published a pamphlet denouncing the Republic of Ireland's unwillingness to extradite terrorist suspects; at the time of his death he was completing another on Sinn Féin's links to paramilitarism, calling for the party to be proscribed and its leaders prosecuted.
In 1981 Graham became chairman of the youth wing of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP); in 1982 he was elected one of four honorary secretaries of the Ulster Unionist Council. He was associated with the devolutionist wing of the party, writing pamphlets for its devolution group. Unlike most unionists, Graham opposed capital punishment. Despite his differences with the leadership, which was dominated by integrationists, Graham was generally recognised as the party's rising star, an unusually articulate and personable spokesman. Nationalist critics thought his insistence on enforcing the rule of law reflected a narrow and legalistic viewpoint typical of lawyer–politicians, but acknowledged his considerable ability and potential. ‘He appealed to reason, in a province of unreason, and paid a terrible price, on behalf of all the reasonable people who would not dream of getting involved in the dirty game of politics’ (Barry White, Belfast Telegraph, 8 Dec. 1983, 14). Graham unsuccessfully sought party nominations for the Westminster seats of South Belfast (1982) and Strangford (1983).
Elected in October 1982 to the Northern Ireland Assembly for South Belfast, he became known as one of the hardest-working unionist representatives. He chaired the finance and personnel committee and became the party's home affairs spokesman. As an outspoken defender of the supergrass system (provided the court knew the terms of the deal between state and witness), he pointed to its effective use against the Italian Mafia, and attacked the ‘sophisticated propaganda campaign’ against it.
Graham opposed loyalist demands for segregation between loyalist and republican prisoners in the Maze Prison. Shortly before his death he was warned that republican prisoners had approached loyalists, suggesting that they should cooperate in his murder. Graham interpreted this as a threat from loyalists and raised it in the assembly without mentioning his own name. Party colleagues asked the police to protect him; he did not ask for a bodyguard but accepted a direct radio link to his house and carried a personal protection weapon. It was reported subsequently that he had discussed funeral arrangements with his father and a presbyterian minister. On 7 December 1983 Edgar Graham was shot in the head and killed instantly by IRA gunmen outside the Queen's University law department as he made his way to a tutorial. It was widely alleged that he had been targeted by Sinn Féin sympathisers within the university; some students are supposed to have cheered his death, and the atmosphere on campus was poisoned.
James Molyneaux, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, described the dead Graham as the party's effective leader in the assembly and a future party leader. His murder was condemned from all quarters of the political spectrum except by Sinn Féin, which called the condemnations ‘hypocritical’; Father Denis Faul (qv) (1932–2006) complained that the murderers had violated every sanctuary established by mankind. An Alliance Party assembly member contrasted Sinn Féin demands that their elected representatives be respected, with their refusal to condemn Graham's assassination, and set republican criticisms of non-jury trials beside Graham's summary ‘execution’.
The killing of such a prominent elected representative was relatively unusual (though Robert Bradford (qv), the UUP MP for South Belfast, had been assassinated in 1981 and Charles Armstrong, UUP chairman of Armagh district council and a UDR officer, had been killed three weeks previously). There has been considerable speculation about the motive behind the killing: some commentators attribute it to Graham's advising the prison administration on dealing with protesting prisoners, others blame IRA militarists seeking to embarrass their political leaders, and one source suggests that it was inadvertently inspired by a journalist who called Graham an outstanding potential leader while interviewing Sinn Féin activists. Two students received short sentences for withholding information on his murder; the principal culprits were never caught.
Graham was a member of Queen's University Masonic Lodge no. 533 and Randalstown Masonic Lodge no. 598. The QUB law faculty established the Edgar Graham Memorial Scholarship (funded by public appeal) for graduates pursuing postgraduate study in Britain, and an inter-school Edgar Graham Memorial Public Speaking Competition was also established. His tombstone was inscribed ‘Keep alive the light of justice’, as is his memorial plaque in the members' lobby at Stormont. Graham's death permanently affected his family, colleagues, and political allies. His girlfriend became active in loyalist protest groups. Sylvia Hermon, a law lecturer elected UUP MP for North Down in 2002, attributed her political activism to his death. David Trimble, later the UUP leader, a political ally and academic colleague, who was one of the first at the scene of Graham's death, frequently invoked Graham's memory; during unionist party controversies over the working of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, he declared that if Graham had survived he would have been in Trimble's position as leader. Trimble's unionist opponents denounced him for admitting ‘the murderers of Edgar Graham’ to government.