A former Stormont speaker and his son who were murdered by the IRA have been remembered as “two of the finest gentlemen you could meet”.
Sir Norman Stronge, 86, and his son James, 48, were killed at their family home, Tynan Abbey in Co Armagh, on January 21 1981.
Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken and MLA Doug Beattie marked the 40th anniversary by laying a wreath at Stormont on Wednesday.
Mr Aiken described the murders as a “heinous and callous crime against two defenceless men”.
“The brutal IRA gang murdered two good me, who had given so much in the service of their country, and then to compound the evil they committed, the terrorists set fire to their home,” he said.
“Forty years on our thoughts are with the Stronge family who suffered such grievous loss. We will never forget and we will continue to remember them and others who were murdered by terrorists.
“Their killers are still out there and like so many other families in Northern Ireland, they have never received justice.”
Former MEP Jim Nicholson is to lay a wreath at their graves at Tynan parish church on Thursday.
He recalled working closely with James Stronge in Armagh when he was the local Stormont MP.
“James was genuinely one of the finest gentlemen you could ever have hoped to meet in your lifetime, as was his father,” Mr Nicholson told the PA news agency.
“Given the sectarian murder campaign being waged by the Provisional IRA we all recognised that they would stop at no ends to commit murder and anybody could be a target.
“James knew he had to go back up that long avenue into the abbey every night.
“We have many problems in 2021, but people should never forget what people like the Stronge family went through because they were members of the Ulster Unionist Party, stood for the Union and freedom of speech.”
Mr Nicholson said he believes the murder of Sir Norman and his only son was part of an “ethnic cleansing of unionists in border areas”.
“This was a very well planned, clinical murder of two leading unionists in a border area and it was designed to strike fear and trepidation into the rest of the people living in those areas,” he said.
“In the aftermath of Sir Norman’s and James’s murders, the community was shocked and horrified at the barbarity. The mood was dark and sombre. You couldn’t believe it had happened. There was also great fear.
“It was a terrible, horrific time. Nobody was safe in their bed at night, but those who supported and believed in the Ulster Unionist Party were determined to come through it.”
Sir Norman, a veteran of the First World War, was awarded the Military Cross before embarking on his career in politics.
He served as MP for Mid Armagh for more than 30 years in the then Stormont Parliament, and as speaker from 1945.
His son was also a military veteran and followed his father into politics, serving as an MP and later in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973-74.
“We should always remember Sir Norman and James, who were two of the finest gentlemen that you could meet,” Mr Nicholson added.
“The bravery of Sir Norman – a World War One veteran, who was decorated with the Military Cross for his service at The Somme, and the Belgian Croix de Guerre – is in stark contrast to the cowardly terrorists who murdered an 86-year-old man and his son.
“Throughout their lives they served their country and they set an example to others. Forty years on that’s what we should reflect on.”
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were among those expressing condolences, sending a telegram to one of Sir Norman’s daughters expressing shock at the atrocity.
An online service in memory of the two men will be led by Rev Matthew Hagan of Tynan Church of Ireland.
Kenny Donaldson of the SEFF victims group said the service can be followed on the SEFF Victims and Survivors Facebook page.
“It is important that we never grow tired of remembering and honouring the lives of those who had theirs extinguished because of ethnic or sectarian-motivated hatreds,” he said.
Sir Norman was also a member of the Royal Black Preceptory which is planning a series of memorial events, themed a Time to Remember.
Sovereign Grand Master the Rev William Anderson said: “The emotional wounds from the double murder are still keenly felt by members of our institution, and it is our intention to remember both men with pride and affection.
“The institution’s Stronge Memorial Project will provide a basis around which we can explore and celebrate our country’s rich history.”