A British military commander who rose to fame thanks to a stirring eve-of-battle speech to troops in Iraq has issued a hearty endorsement of an MLA candidate for Thursday’s election.
Tim Collins issued a statement praising Ulster Unionist Andy Allen, a wounded ex-soldier who is vying for a seat in East Belfast.
The Northern Irish former colonel hailed Mr Allen for his determination in the face of the “life-changing” injuries which were inflicted on him in Afghanistan on July 14, 2008, when a bomb blast cost him his legs, and also harmed his sight and hearing.
Mr Allen is one of a number of candidates with military connections standing in the upcoming election.
UUP man Doug Beattie, a former captain, is standing in Upper Bann, while DUP war widow Brenda Hale – who has made a name for herself by campaigning on military welfare issues –will be fighting for a seat in Lagan Valley.
Col Collins’ speech to troops in 2003, urging them to fight fiercely but also to be respectful and merciful towards Iraqis, was quoted in a mural unveiled in his honour in 2013 in east Belfast.
In his statement to the News Letter, he said: “Northern Ireland’s youth deserve a better future.
“The Northern Ireland of today needs jobs, opportunities and forward looking, inclusive parliament with more talent that has seen the world outside.
“That is why I am relieved and excited to see talent such as Andy Allen stepping forward to bring service and commitment, working to deliver a better Northern Ireland for all.
“Despite life-changing injuries suffered on active service in Afghanistan at a very young age with the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment, where he served with men from all parts of Ireland and from every tradition working as one, Andy did not give up.
“Having mastered his own life situation he sought a new way to serve.”
Col Collins is patron of the charity set up by the wounded veteran – Andy Allen Veterans Support, whose website states that it is “in the latter stages” of its business plan.
Col Collins has occasionally commented in the News Letter in recent years, most recently to condemn the criminal probe into Bloody Sunday.
He said “you can be sure [Andy Allen] will not shy away from difficult decisions to help move Northern Ireland forward”.
He concluded: “The voters on Thursday have a choice; stick with those who keep looking over their shoulder to our dark and unhappy past or look forward...
“I am hoping there will be a few like Andy Allen elected to Stormont this time who know what serving is all about – helping to make things better for us all.”