Northern Ireland

Former unionist Ben Collins urges republicans not to 'celebrate' the past

Ben Collins, author of Irish Unity
Ben Collins, author of Irish Unity Ben Collins, author of Irish Unity

A FORMER unionist who spoke at the Ireland's Future event in Dublin earlier this month has urged republicans to be mindful about how they commemorate the past.

Ben Collins, a one-time Tory and Northern Ireland Office press officer who has just published a book on Irish unity, made his remarks in a submission to Sinn Féin's people's assembly.

Much of the former Northern Ireland Housing Association Federation's CEO's submission relates to housing policy, however, he also touches on the vexed topic of commemoration.

Mr Collins, who disagrees with Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill's assertion that the IRA's violent campaign was inevitable, said that while it was acceptable for republicans to commemorate the past they needed to be cognisant of unionist sensitivities and to therefore avoid "celebrating" the past.

"I'm not going to be the arbiter of where you draw the line between a commemoration or a celebration but if you want to convince unionists that their identity and beliefs will be safeguarded in a united Ireland, you need to show some awareness of the hurt that community endured during the Troubles," he told The Irish News.

"Respectful commemoration, as demonstrated by Queen Elizabeth when she laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, is acceptable but sometimes the tone of some events can appear distasteful to unionists."

Mr Collins said he regarded the IRA's campaign as "terrorism" but stressed that his views did not prevent him working with those who once advocated violence towards the goal of Irish unity.

"I don't characterise myself as a nationalist or republican – I'm a liberal who believes Irish unity offers both parts of the island the best opportunities economically – but I know winning a border poll requires broad political support and I'll work with anybody to achieve that," he said.