originally posted in the observer: Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins personifies the greatest problem facing Ulster loyalism. The dashing Irish officer in the desert who prepared his troops for battle last week with Churchillian oratory represents the loyalist grouping's central failure - their inability to recruit the brightest and best within the unionist community. The UVF, UDA, LVF and other loyalist micro-groups have always operated with this in-built disadvantage. The overwhelming majority of unionists who want to fight under the flag of the union have in their minds better and more socially credible outlets. They can join the regular British Army, especially the established 'Irish' regiments. They can sign up on a part-time basis to the locally recruited Royal Irish Regiment or the Territorial Army. Or they can apply for a post in the police, albeit on a 50:50 basis with Catholics. What is left for the loyalists (with a few notable exceptions) is the detritus of the Protestant underclass: the soccer thugs, the petty criminals, the rioters, the street gangs, the drug dealers who have for the past three decades provided the raw recruits to the pro-union terrorist movements. Perhaps we should stop this argument temporarily and inject a qualification into this debate. We don't actually know what views, if any, Collins holds in relation to the union and Northern Ireland. For all we know he might be a closet nationalist just like the Horse and Hound-reading, plummy-voiced officer I met in the Kuwaiti desert during the last Gulf War in 1991. I remember almost falling off his Challenger tank when he told me that he was born in Co.Wicklow and although brought up in England supported the SDLP and wanted to see the peaceful reunification of Ireland. To return to Collins, even though we cannot be sure what his personal or political opinions are, we certainly know the class and community from which he comes from and the qualities it has engendered in those it has sent into the world. They are plain-speaking, humble, personally loyal, hard-working, devoted and stoic individuals. Their sense of morality is rooted in The Bible and the adherence to The Word. Collins' advice to his troops that, 'Iraq is steeped in history. It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood and the birthplace of Abraham,' could have come from the Sunday school lecture or the Bible studies class. His chilling reminder to his men that some would not return reflects the stoicism combined with compassion so prevalent in the hearts of middle Ulster. Of those troops who fall in battle: 'We will put them in their sleeping bags and send them back. There will be no time for sorrow.' Of those soldiers who kill the enemy on the battlefield, Collins reminded his men that, 'I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts, I can assure you they live with the mark of Cain upon them.' You could never imagine a loyalist paramilitary 'commander' or 'Brigadier' (on paper a higher rank than Collins's!) warning his goons that when they go out to hunt down a Taig, any Taig, that the mark of Cain will fall upon them. He is more likely to offer them an Ecstasy tablet or a round of drinks at the bar once the deed is done. Why were the loyalist paramilitaries so bluntly bigoted and tactically inept for so long? The answer lies in the Tim Collinses of this world. He embodies the decent core of Ulster Protestant society that rejected not only loyalist extremism but also engagement in any kind with unionist politics tainted as it has been for so long by hatred, discrimination and bloody-minded obstinacy. Tim Collins is the Prod-in-the-garden-centre dressed in khaki who has disengaged from a unionism that has defined itself as anti-Catholic and anti-Irish.