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Angry exchanges as disabled MLA takes offence at 'standing up' remarks

Published 18/10/2016

War veteran Andy Allen took offence at the remarks
War veteran Andy Allen took offence at the remarks

There were angry exchanges in the Assembly after a disabled MLA expressed offence at remarks about "standing up" for those in housing stress.

War veteran Andy Allen demanded former DUP enterprise minister Jonathan Bell take back comments he made during a debate on social housing.

The former Royal Irish Regiment soldier, who lost both his legs in a Taliban bomb attack, said: "As somebody who cannot get up and stand up, I take utter offence at those remarks, and I would ask you to take them back."

The issue of housing topped the agenda during the second Opposition Day at Parliament Buildings.

Defending his statement, Mr Bell hit back: " The point I was making is I am standing up, as you well know, for the people in social housing need. That was the only meaning I had in that, and I will continue to stand up for people in social housing need.

"You will hear, when I go on, that part of the proposal that I want to see is for more wheelchair accessible social housing.

"Coming from a family with significant disability within it and with members who are wheelchair-bound, I know that we are not doing enough in social housing. The Ulster Unionist and SDLP motion does not do enough for disabled people. It sells them short."

Later, Mr Allen said he was raised in social housing and would not take any lectures from Mr Bell, or any other MLAs, about the needs of social housing or about "championing" the needs of people with disabilities.

"I think I full well understand the needs of people with disabilities," he added.

During the debate, the Executive faced repeated calls to do more to tackle housing problems.

MLAs were told that in June, some 37,347 households were on the social housing waiting list, of which 22,986 were deemed to be in housing stress.

A further 15,474 were deemed to be statutorily homeless.

SDLP MLA Nicola Mallon branded the level of homelessness "staggering and shameful".

She said: "The fact is that thousands upon thousands of our citizens are sitting in poor-quality, overcrowded housing not suitable to their needs.

"Citizens are living for months on end in hostels with their children or they are sofa-surfing at the discretion of friends and families.

"Meanwhile, their health deteriorates, educational attainment is challenged and economic opportunities are reduced.

"The truth is that thousands of our citizens are waiting - and waiting - on the housing list. Over 500 disabled households are waiting for wheelchair accessible accommodation, with no certainty or comfort in sight.

"Those families deserve better. The families living in hostels deserve better. They deserve more than honeyed words.

"They need to be given certainty and comfort, with a clear commitment to build an ambitious number of new homes each year."

Sinn Fein's Fra McCann claimed many of the housing problems stemmed from the sale of social housing stock and c alled for Stormont to follow models in Scotland and Wales where restrictions had been imposed.

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