DUP Orangeman helps ill nationalist mother in her battle to win back DLA
A DUP councillor has taken up the case of a Coalisland woman who was struck off Disability Living Allowance and who had previously consulted Sinn Fein.
"This is one of the worst cases I have seen. I believe that, although she is not in my electoral area, I can win this case," said Gareth Wilson, an Orangeman who leads the DUP group on Armagh council.
Asked if he had helped other people from nationalist backgrounds, he said: "I don't ask but I'm aware of one from Newry, there are probably more."
He believes it highlights shortcomings in the tribunal system.
Mother-of-four Michelle Robinson (38) suffers from a debilitating cocktail of physical conditions including fibromyalgia and degenerative disc disease.
She is on maximum doses of medication for epilepsy.
"I was initially awarded DLA for life in 1994," she said.
"Four years ago I was assessed for a lesser amount. Now five more assessments and several appeals later we have complete breakdown."
Ms Robinson has already made one suicide attempt and her 20-year-old daughter recently left work to care for her.
"I don't want to do that to her. She is doing her engineering degree part-time. Now has to look after me as well," she said.
She feels strongly about the effect on her children because she had a troubled family background herself.
Her brother killed her mother and she was abused as child. She had hoped to keep this out of the tribunal but was asked about it constantly, questioning which led to her feeling the "aura", the prelude to an epileptic fit.
"When I felt the aura I had to leave the room and calm down, that is the medical advice. Gareth came into the other room with me and he saw the state I was in. I had to calm down before I even stood up, he was a great help and I am going to take his advice," Michelle said.
The single mum said that Terry Kelly of Disability Action has also helped her and was present.
She described the tribunal as "a kangaroo court set-up" and was particularly upset because there was no note taking system or recording.
Tribunal members had to write everything in longhand and, as a result, kept asking her to slow down and repeat herself when describing traumatic events.
Mr Wilson said: "When she almost had a seizure in the appeal I did help her out. I thought 'surely they must realise you don't just set epilepsy on the shelf and move on'. She was really affected by the whole procedure."
He doesn't go as far as Ms Robinson in criticising the tribunal system; he does believe it needs to be more sensitive to claimants.
He said: "I would like to see more compassion in the delivery of the tribunal service."