Political Platform

East Belfast MLA Andy Allen, discusses how his career in the army has shaped his political career and how he hopes to use his time in politics to make Northern Ireland better for everyone.

Outline your background/career to date.

I was born in East Belfast on 2 November 1988. In the early years of my life I lived in Merton Park, Knocknagoney. When I was eight-years-old my family moved to the Albertbridge Road. I attended Knocknagoney primary, Avoniel primary and Orangefield Secondary School. After leaving school in 2005, I began working in a local confectionary shop for a short time before joining the army in March 2006, serving with the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment.

I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, where after four months I was horrifically injured in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast, resulting in the loss of both my legs above the knee and I was also left partially sighted. Despite experiencing such traumatic life changing injures at the young age of 19, I used my experience to identify a number of areas where support for those who serve or have served and their families living in Northern Ireland did not meet their needs. 

In response, and with the help of a number of other ex-servicemen and women, I set up my own charity for veterans in 2010 designed to respond to the needs of all veterans and their families throughout Northern Ireland.

I have worked as a volunteer with the charity over the past five years helping many ex-service personnel and their families throughout Northern Ireland.

In September 2013, my charity established Northern Ireland’s first veterans ‘training and drop-in centre’ offering many vital support services, such as counselling, employment training, advice, guidance and more within the one facility. 

Having served my country, at great personal sacrifice, I decided to continue serving the people by entering politics. I chose to join the Ulster Unionist Party as I believe they are the right party to bring positive change to Northern Ireland. I joined the party in October 2014 as the UUP’s North Belfast spokesperson where I worked with a committed team of elected representatives and volunteers delivering advice, assistance and helping with many issues facing both north and west Belfast.

Following Michael Copeland’s resignation due to ill-health, I was selected by the party to enter the Northern Ireland Assembly to represent my native East Belfast in September 2015.

What inspired you to get into local politics?

My desire to continue to serve, defend the rights and freedoms of the people and to be part of a dedicated team, that is able to help deliver positive change for Northern Ireland. My time in the army has taught me the importance and meaning of integrity, loyalty, service and defence. To be able to adapt and overcome, which are values I hold dear, and apply in my day to day life and indeed in my role as an MLA.

What do you enjoy most about being an MLA and what do you find most challenging?

For me, the most important aspect of politics, whether I’m an MLA, councillor or volunteer is being able to help deliver answers for the people and help address their problems. I find not being able to drive anymore due to being visually impaired extremely challenging at times, but I have a dedicated and hardworking team around me who are always on hand to help me see constituents as and when they need me. In this role, just like my time in the army, I serve the people and I’ll never forget that.

How do you find your role on the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister?

I find it important to be able to advise, assist and properly scrutinise ministers and their departments. To be able to hear first-hand from individuals and organisations who appear in front of the committee to provide an overview of how OFMdFM is or isn’t working for them.

After 11 years of work, the OFMdFM Committee has finally progressed the Northern Ireland Ombudsman Bill to its final stage and that is something I’m very proud of.

What are your key priorities for East Belfast?

My key priority is to provide the people of East Belfast with straightforward representation. Continuing to do what is right for each business, individual and family, working hard until the job is done is the most important aspect of politics. I want to ensure that I deliver for the people of the East Belfast, times are tough and I will be doing all I can to help my local constituents.

Having said that I realise it is not just about my constituency either, as an MLA I can help make a change for the whole of Northern Ireland. I will strive to ensure that every piece of legislation that the assembly votes on will be the best it can be for all Northern Ireland’s citizens.

I also want to see the implementation of the Military Covenant so that those who serve, have served and their families are not disadvantaged as a result of their military service. Many of those who have served have often been disadvantaged as a result of their military service, the implementation of the military covenant will go a long way in helping to make sure that any disadvantages that may arise can be remedied. 

These are real problems which do not seek preferential treatment, but rather address the circumstances that a nomadic military career can create. Without addressing these it is clear that service personnel and veterans will be disadvantaged by their service and it is therefore easy to see why many feel the Armed Forces Covenant needs to be introduced in Northern Ireland.

Similarly, I want to campaign tirelessly for better and more affordable social housing to meet the growing demand. Given that the most recent figures suggest that there are currently more than 2,200 applicants on the housing waiting list in east Belfast, half of which are deemed to be in housing stress, it is clear more social housing is needed as a matter of priority.

However, at present there are only 28 NIHE lettable voids and 257 housing association lettable voids available to offer to the 2,227 people in need of housing. It is not surprising given the statistics, that 47 per cent of the cases that have been dealt with in my constituency office has been in relation to housing. 

How do you like to relax outside of work?

Spending time with my wife Natalie and two children Carter (7) and Chloe (3), volunteering for the veterans’ charity I helped to establish and the joy and pain of being a Manchester United fan.

Related Posts