Injured Afghan war veteran becomes Stormont Assembly member
An Afghanistan veteran who lost both legs and was partially blinded in a Taliban bomb has become the latest member of the Stormont Assembly.
Andy Allen, who suffered the severe injuries while serving with the Royal Irish Regiment in Helmand province in 2008, has been co-opted into the Ulster Unionist Party's seat in East Belfast.
The position has recently been vacated by long-standing representative Michael Copeland on health grounds.
Mr Allen, who joined the UUP last year, said it was a "huge honour" to join the party's Assembly team, albeit it at uncertain times for the crisis-hit power-sharing institutions.
"I have served my country and want to continue to serve my community," he said.
"That's why I'm here. I look forward to getting down to work as soon as possible because it's work on the ground that can make a difference. There may be doubts about the future of this Assembly, but while it`s here, I'll be a dedicated public servant for the people of East Belfast.
"For too long, veterans in Northern Ireland have been ignored. I fully intend to use my position to highlight the needs of veterans and try and make sure that their needs are not sidelined. There`s a lot of work ahead, but I`m looking forward to it."
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: "I think it is a valid criticism of the Assembly that we need more people with life experience beyond the political bubble. Andy ticks that box.
"The Ulster Unionist Party believes the country must always come before party political interest. In Andy Allen we have a man who knows all too well about service and sacrifice for his country and I am delighted to say he has accepted my invitation to join us here at Stormont, succeeding Michael Copeland as MLA for East Belfast.
"Andy was born and bred in the east of the city and I have no doubt he will serve all the people of the constituency well."
Mr Nesbitt said access to the voting lobbies at Parliament Buildings was not wheel-chair friendly - an issue he said he intended to raise with the speaker.