Northern Ireland

Doug Beattie admits Tim Collins is not the ‘best qualified candidate’ for North Down

UUP leader says he failed to brief former high-ranking British Army officer ahead of interview

Retired British Army colonel Tim Collins is to run for the Ulster Unionists as their North Down candidate in the next general election.
Col Collins is best known for his role in the Iraq War in 2003.
The last time an MP from the party was elected to North Down was 2010.
The current MP for the constituency is Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry, who first won the seat in 2019. following the retirement of independent unionist Lady Hermon. Pictured with UUP leader Doug Beattie 
Talks were reportedly taking place among unionist parties in a bid to find an agreed single unionist candidate but the UUP leader Doug Beattie says his party "does not do pacts".
Retired British Army colonel Tim Collins and Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie

Doug Beattie has backed under-fire Westminster candidate Tim Collins but distanced himself from some of the former high-ranking British soldier’s controversial remarks.

The Ulster Unionists’ North Down candidate, who came to prominence in 2003 after giving an ‘eve of battle’ speech to Royal Irish Regiment soldiers in Iraq, claimed welfare benefits would discourage people from voting for Irish unity and that Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry belonged to a party that was “vaguely if not broadly pro-nationalist”.

In a weekend interview with the News Letter, which the Ulster Unionist leader claimed was conducted “two months ago”, Mr Collins said people were unlikely to vote for a united Ireland because it would mean losing Disability Living Allowance, a benefit that was phased out for over-16s in 2017.

The Belfast-born former British Army officer said the Republic was “completely overwhelmed by the mass tide of immigration”.

Doug Beattie said Stephen Farry was a 'better qualified candidate'. PICTURE: COLM LENAGHAN/PACEMAKER

“The faces of our whole societies are changing — and we see that in Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain — and it will come to Northern Ireland,” he said.

Mr Beattie said on Tuesday that he had “failed” his latest high-profile recruit by not briefing him before speaking to the media.

“I failed him, I failed to make sure he understood the policies, he understood where he should be talking,” the Upper Bann MLA told Radio Ulster’s Talkback.

The UUP leader described the interview as “wrong”.

“What he said was wrong, the manner in which he said it was wrong and we need to address it.”

Mr Beattie insisted he had confidence in the party’s North Down candidate despite the fact that his language was “not in keeping with the language and the policies of the Ulster Unionist Party”.

“He gave that interview two months ago, he’d only been in the party for about four weeks,” he said.

“You have to take responsibility when you lead.”

The Ulster Unionist leader conceded Mr Farry was a “better qualified candidate” but questioned if that was what the electorate of North Down wanted.

“Maybe they want a change and we are offering them a change and that is Tim Collins,” he said.