Tim Collins to meet with Troubles victims’ group over legacy remarks

Westminster candidate Tim Collins is to meet with a group representing victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles after he was criticised for remarks about the Government’s Legacy Act, his party leader Doug Beattie has said.

Ulster Unionist leader Mr Beattie praised the retired colonel who he described as an “exceptional orator” and “very thoughtful”.

Mr Collins, known for a rousing pre-battle speech he made while serving in the British Army in Iraq in 2003, is running as a candidate for the party in North Down.

However, during his campaign the veteran has made a series of remarks which have generated media attention. This included him stating he backs controversial new legacy laws because Northern Ireland “has to move on”.

The Ulster Unionist Party opposes the Legacy Act in which investigations for unresolved Troubles have moved to a new truth recovery body, the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR).

Doug Beattie behind a desk working on a laptop
Doug Beattie said Mr Collins had said things which ‘wouldn’t have been my personal view’ (Jonathan McCambridge/PA)

Mr Beattie said there were things Mr Collins had said which “wouldn’t have been my personal view”.

He added: “I think the one that I had to speak to him most about is the issue about legacy and understanding legacy a bit more.

“We have got a date already where he is going down to meet South East Fermanagh Foundation to talk to them about it.

“He has been explained an understanding, the whole issue about legacy. Not just the Legacy Bill we have now which is not good and we can’t support it but also what went before it, the Stormont House Agreement legacy mechanism.

“That was the one where we had to speak to Tim.”

He added: “We announced him (as a candidate) and everyone wanted to interview him nearly immediately and we just didn’t have time to make sure he understands all of the policies; there are a lot of them.”

Mr Beattie praised the campaign run by his former commanding officer in North Down.

He said: “I think Tim is an exceptional orator. He is very thoughtful, very compassionate. If people knew the Tim Collins I know, the Tim Collins who would not take body armour in a combat situation until he made sure every single one of his men were issued body armour.

“The Tim Collins who in the middle of the night was told in Canada that one of his soldiers’ parachutes hadn’t opened and he’d sadly passed away, who in the middle of the night grabbed me and drove from Edmonton to Calgary just so he could go to the body.

“If people saw that compassionate side of Tim they would have a better understanding of the man who is standing here now.

“As a person who leads, yes he’s a tough leader when he was leading but there’s a compassion to that man that people probably haven’t seen yet.

“They will see it over the coming weeks and months when he is elected.”

Mr Beattie also said that Mr Collins had previously been approached to run as a candidate by the DUP before he decided to stand as an Ulster Unionist.

He said: “I didn’t bring Tim in. He was courted by the DUP last year to get into politics to win the seat back from the Alliance Party.

“He then came to me and said he had been asked to run and I told him the reality is you won’t get the Lady Sylvia Hermon (former North Down MP) vote.

“I said to Tim you need to bring these people back to that pro-union family once more and he said then he wanted to run for the Ulster Unionist Party.

“We announced him as our candidate. That clearly annoyed some people.”