THE SLAUGHTER of a University of Ulster student has hit hopes for peace in Northern Ireland, just weeks after the historic political breakthrough of the Good Friday agreement.
Ciaran Heffron was shot dead in the early hours of last Saturday as he walked a few hundred yards home from a Crumlin village pub.
The 22-year-old was in the first year of a retail distribution management course at the main UU campus in Coleraine. His killers, believed to be members of the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force, which is opposed to the agreement, had attended a rally against the new accord in nearby Antrim a few hours earlier.
The victim had come late to higher education and helped finance his studies by working part-time at the nearby international airport but he had also come the 40 miles home last weekend because his mother is ill.
Student colleagues and friends of Mr Heffron were said to be "numbed" by the murder. There were hugs and tears when his fellow undergraduates met together on Monday morning.
Vice-chancellor Peter Roebuck said: "The university is deeply saddened by the death of Ciaran Heffron and its tragic circumstances. We have been in contact with Ciaran's family to offer our support and condolences. All the staff and students of the university share in their deep grief and our thoughts are with them at this time."
The university also reminded students that it offers counselling. While the university did not close on the day of the funeral, all four campuses held minutes of silence as a mark of respect.
Students were given leave to attend the funeral and the university was also officially represented. A special memorial service for Mr Heffron may be held at the university in due course.
Coleraine chaplain Brian Mullan described Mr Heffron as a "likeable, quiet lad" and added: "This is my first experience of the murder of a student. We have had students injured in attacks but never killed."
A spokesman for the National Union of Students said it was a "senseless and obscene act which would not advance any political agenda in Northern Ireland. Such a nakedly sectarian murder only serves to undermine the hopes of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland for peace and reconciliation". The university and NUS/UBI formally extended sympathy to Mr Heffron's family and friends.
l George Bain, vice-chancellor of Queen's University, Belfast, this week strongly backed Northern Ireland as a target for inward investment in his first major public speech in the post.
Professor Bain, an expert on management education, told the Institute of Directors in London that education in the province was "second to none" and that its two universities were excellent at research and development.