A Day in The Life: Andy Allen
I was 17 years old when I joined the Royal Irish Regiment.
Serving gave me a sense of purpose and achievement. I travelled to Kenya, Iraq in 2007, and Afghanistan in
2008, where I was subsequently injured in the July. We were on a foot patrol and had stopped for a short break. As I got ready to set off, the Taliban detonated a device.
It took my right leg and badly damaged my left one. Ten days after getting back to the UK, my left leg was amputated. When I woke up in Selly Oak Hospital a lot of emotions were going through my head. I think the main one was fear because I couldn’t see anything. The blast had burned my face and eyes, which resulted in me losing my sight. I knew I had lost my legs immediately. I couldn’t see they had gone, but I could feel it.
I’ve had several operations on my eyes since. My cataracts were removed in 2008 – the day after my wife, Natalie, gave birth to the first of our three children. It gave me back very blurred vision, but another operation two years later gave me more sight. I have a blurred, underwater view of the world, with about 30-40% vision in my right eye.
As I spoke to former soldiers, it became apparent that there was a gap in service delivery for veterans living in Northern Ireland. We would have to travel to England or across the province to receive respite, treatment or training. A BBC documentary, Wounded, had followed my rehab, and I wanted to do something with that profile. Starting a charity was the only way to achieve the outcomes that I felt were necessary. In 2011, AA Veterans Support was established. We’ve supported thousands of veterans since and now have a drop-in and training centre in Belfast.
The charity work led me to politics. More and more people were asking me for advice and guidance. At the time, the Military Covenant was being brought forward by the UK government, and I wanted to understand
it better; what it meant, what it hoped to achieve, and what elements of it existed in Northern Ireland. It gave me the bug for the legislative side of politics. I got involved officially with party politics in late 2014, co-opted into the Northern Ireland Assembly in September 2015, and stood for election in May 2016. I stood
for election again in March 2017, and I’m still a Member of the Assembly today.
I am the Ulster Unionist Party spokesperson for communities. I am passionate about equality, making sure people with disabilities have the opportunity to fully participate in society, addressing Northern Ireland’s lack of social housing, and obviously all aspects of veterans’ lives. I was proud and humbled to be awarded an MBE in 2019 for services to veterans and families in Northern Ireland.