HC Deb 07 December 1983 vol 50 cc337-41 4.30 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the murder earlier today of Mr. Edgar Graham. I do so on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who is in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Edgar Graham, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, was murdered at 10.50 this morning outside Queen's university, Belfast, where he lectured. While talking to a colleague on the pavement, he was approached by two youths on foot who fired a number of shots and then fled. The Provisional IRA has claimed responsibility for the murder. A full police inquiry was mounted immediately.

I know that the whole House will join me in extending sympathy to Mr. Graham's family, as also to those right hon. and hon. Members who were his colleagues. The House will also wish to join me in expressing total condemnation of this outrage.

Edgar Graham was the kind of young man who is needed in Northern Ireland politics. His intellectual gifts would have enabled him to make a good career in any number of fields. He chose to devote them to the process of democracy. At 28, he was already a senior figure in his party, including being secretary of the Ulster Unionist Council.

I can speak with personal knowledge of his political skills and penetrating mind as Chairman of the Finance and Personnel Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I therefore express my own feelings as well as those of the Government in lamenting his untimely death.

Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

The whole House will feel a sense of loss at the murder of a young man of 28 by butchers masquerading as heroes. We all join the Minister in extending our sympathy to Mr. Graham's family and friends in their shock and bereavement. Members in all parts of the House, irrespective of political commitment, will recognise that Northern Ireland and the world have been deprived of talents which they can ill afford to lose and for which I as a lawyer can vouch.

Will the Minister confirm that, while every effort should and will be made to bring the murderers to justice and to ensure security on the streets of Northern Ireland, no measures can guarantee security until the communities of Northern Ireland have learnt to live together, and that if they are to live in a normal, stable community those who believe in constitutional democratic government must show that it can resolve issues between those who differ from one another? Will the Minister also appeal to those who, understandably, feel a sense of outrage and stress to them that measures of retaliation and escalation of the violence will merely reward the murderers with the very objective which they set out to achieve?

Mr. Butler

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his opening remarks and for the total condemnation that he expressed. He is right to draw attention to wider aspects of the Northern Ireland scene. I agree with him that the problems there can be resolved only when the two communities have found ways to live harmoniously together. He is also right to refer to retaliation. If there was one purpose behind the brutal murder of Mr. Graham, I suspect that it was to bring about a spate of retaliatory measures. I share the right hon. and learned Gentleman's view that that must not be allowed to happen.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), whom the Secretary of State, following this event, asked to meet him in Belfast, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that the expressions of loss and sympathy from both Front Benches, which have been echoed by the whole House, will be noted and appreciated both by the bereaved and by all our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland?

May I also ask the Government what message they believe that those who ordered the murder intended to transmit and to whom that message was addressed?

Mr. Butler

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was, of course, in two minds about whether to make the statement to the House himself, but he was in Northern Ireland this morning and decided that he should stay in the Province. He has already had a meeting with the Chief Constable and with the Commander Land Forces.

It is not for me to say what message was intended by those who ordered the murder. What is important is the response to it. I expressed my feelings on that in reply to the first question.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Front Bench statements are to be welcomed, but they leave me a little perplexed. I am sure that they will also leave many people in Northern Ireland perplexed. I speak as the constituency Member for Belfast, South and as a colleague of Edgar Graham, who represented south Belfast with me in the Assembly. I worked with him in the Business Committee of the Assembly. I therefore know something of the tremendous loss suffered by the people of Ulster and the United Kingdom at large. Had Edgar Graham been alive on the morrow, he would have been here in Westminster consulting senior Members and Back Benchers.

I disagree with the view that the purpose of the killing was simply to cause community strife. I believe that it was part of a calculated nose-thumbing snub to this House and to the security forces to kill a man such as Edgar Graham, who took a firm line on law and order and not long ago appeared on the media calling on people not to take retaliatory action.

I should have liked the Minister making the statement today to be in a position, even at such short notice, to explain why, although the security forces had been made aware of an imminent attack on a prominent Unionist, and had been made aware by me personally that the most vulnerable member was Edgar Graham, no action was taken to provide the protection which is now proved to have been necessary.

I regret that throughout the past 14 years people have gone through the ritual, pietistic condemnation of murder and violence, but when the security forces start doing the job for which they are trained and getting at the terrorists the self-same people put pressure on the security forces to stop. I hope that the message from this Parliament today will be that the security forces, who already have enormous constraints upon them under the law, should not constantly be penalised, while sacrificing their lives, by the knowledge that if they do not hit fast and hit the right person they will immediately be apprehended and charged, and will then languish awaiting trial. The lives of our security forces are at stake, and the lives of many other people in Northern Ireland likewise.

Mr. Butler

The hon. Gentleman speaks with the depth of feeling that one would expect from a close friend and colleague of Edgar Graham. The forces of law and order must and will continue to operate under the law. They will get the full support, as they have done, of the Government.

As to the report of an imminent attack on Edgar Graham, certainly there was a suggestion that he was at greater risk. It is worth my putting on record the fact that, as a consequence, there was a meeting on 24 November, between him and a member of the security branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who gave advice both about further protection of his home and of his person. I understand that Mr. Graham did not ask for full personal protection.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

I join every right hon. and hon. Member in expressing my deep and sincere regret at the tragic and brutal murder of Mr. Edgar Graham. I certainly express my deep sympathy to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of the Official Unionist party.

I must ask the Minister some pertinent questions. Condemnation of this act is not sufficient. Yesterday the people of Ulster were faced with armed and hooded men standing in their streets, yet they were not in any way dealt with by the security forces. Is it not correct that on the Sabbath evening armed men were shot by the SAS, in my opinion quite correctly? If it was correct on the Sabbath evening to do that, why was it not correct yesterday, when armed and hooded men were standing in the streets of Ulster?

Will the Minister answer a solemn question? Does he agree that the time has come for Sinn Fein to be outlawed when Gerry Adams puts the beret and gloves on the coffin of an IRA murderer? Does the Minister agree that it is possible that a competition of murder could now ensue between the INLA and the Provisional IRA against Loyalist politicians? Indeed, is it not possible that someone sitting in the House today may be waiting to be carried out in a box after another IRA assassination?

Is it not time—I say this with sincerity of heart—that every effort was made to put down these brutal murderers, thugs and scum, and to ensure that Ulster gets back to peace and its rightful prosperity as a part of this great United Kingdom?

Mr. Butler

The hon. Gentleman has raised a point that causes anxiety to many hon. Members—the appearance of hooded men at funerals. This is observed closely by the security forces and, where possible, follow-up action is taken.

The hon. Gentleman suggested the outlawing of Sinn Fein, which has been mooted in the House on previous occasions. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will read what the hon. Gentleman said. However, I ask the hon. Gentleman, even in the great emotions of this day, not to raise unduly the anxieties of those who might be the targets of assassins. I believe that that is one of the terrorists' aims. Every effort will continue to be made to overcome terrorism. Progress has been made, and the performance by the security forces this year has been better even than it was last year, which I believe was the best for some decades.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

For 15 years successive Governments have pursued a policy of trying to buy off Republican demands with a series of concessions, large and small, which have done nothing but fan the flames of Republican violence. Will this Government now make the massive and comprehensive changes in political activity and in security policy which are clearly needed to destroy the IRA?

Mr. Butler

I spoke a moment ago of the progress that had been made in that area. Therefore, I must repudiate the suggestion that the tactics employed by the security forces are a failure. They are not. They must be fully supported, and if in the light of today's events improvements can be made, they will be made. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State chose to stay in Northern Ireland today to meet the Chief Constable and the Commander Land Forces.

Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Billericay)

What has been the increase in terrorist activity in Northern Ireland since the Maze breakout in September?

Mr. Butler

I cannot answer that question exactly. I am aware of no connection between the Maze breakout and the level of terrorist activity since that time.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

May I associate the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party with the condolences expressed about today's ghastly act? I especially offer condolences to our colleagues in the House from the Official Unionist party, who must be feeling dreadful now. Surely it is not good enough that those who have the courage to play a full part in the politics of Northern Ireland, and who are offered the help of the security forces, can turn it down. The House is beholden to give to those who are active in political life in Northern Ireland the security and protection which they obviously need, and I beg them to accept it when it is offered to them.

Mr. Butler

Clearly it must be for the individual to decide whether he accepts full personal protection. In the same way, it is for the Chief Constable and those who judge such matters to assess the degree of risk to which any person is put. If personal security is increased to a high level, it might have some impact on the deployment of resources in other directions.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

May I humbly endorse what has been said on both sides of the House about the murder of a fine Ulsterman and a fine Unionist, who was to have addressed our Back-Bench Committee tomorrow? On the wider questions that have been raised, I invite my hon. Friend to consider carefully what was said by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), not in questioning my hon. Friend, but in questioning the Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the responsibility of the Irish Republic, since the Government of that country as well as the British Government must be concerned with the prevention and suppression of terrorism. Are the Government now satisfied that there is the fullest cooperation between the two Governments? If not, will Her Majesty's Government use every means possible to influence, and if necessary to put pressure upon, the Irish Government?

Mr. Butler

I agree with my hon. Friend that there must be co-operation on security matters across the border, and I assure him that the Prime Minister of Ireland is equal to our Prime Minister not only in condemning the violence but in his determination to overcome it. That means co-operation.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

As chairman of the Northern Ireland departmental committee of the parliamentary Labour party, may I say that our hearts go out to the relatives and the colleagues of this poor man who has been shot. I hope that no impassioned words spoken in the House will ever lead to retaliation, because all our efforts should be aimed at reconciliation and to proper political discussion of the problems. There should be no harsh words which would breed more of the sectarian fratricide that goes on already in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Butler

The hon. Gentleman speaks from experience, and I hope that his words will be listened to.

Mr. John David Taylor (Strangford)

I thank the Minister for his statement, and I express my sympathy for the family and relatives of Mr. Edgar Graham, who was a colleague of mine in the Assembly, where he represented a part of my Westminster constituency. He was, as the Minister said, one of our most promising young politicians in Northern Ireland, and only yesterday I was speaking to the deputy leader of the Conservative party in Brussels about the possibility of Mr. Graham being a candidate in Europe for our Province. From my experience of the IRA, I know how his family feel at this time.

I am concerned about one point in the Minister's statement. He said that the police called on Edgar Graham to advise him that there was a threat, but that he did not ask for security and therefore it was not provided. Am I to understand that personal security for people in Northern Ireland is provided only at the invitation of persons, rather than at the suggestion of the RUC?

Mr. Butler

It is important that my supplementary statement should be clear, because I did not say that he was offered full personal security. I said that a special meeting, resulting from the threat that was said to have arisen, was held at his house, and advice was given specifically in regard to added protection at his house, and action followed on that. Secondly, he was given advice as to how to reduce the risk to his person, principally in such things as varying his routes, which may have been relevant in the circumstances. He was not offered full personal protection, but neither did he ask for it.