Peter Robinson has appointed one of his special advisers as the new DUP MLA for South Belfast – something which means her salary has almost halved.
Emma Pengelly, one of Mr Robinson’s four Spads, was yesterday announced as the successor to DUP veteran Jimmy Spratt, who has been battling cancer for several years and is retiring from the Assembly on health grounds.
Mrs Pengelly, a barrister by training who has worked as a Spad since the restoration of devolution more than eight years ago, is married to senior civil servant Richard Pengelly, the permanent secretary of the Department of Health.
The new DUP MLA’s father, Noel Little, has a long connection with the DUP and was arrested in Paris in 1989 while attempting to import arms on behalf of Ulster Resistance, which had been set up by the DUP. He and several associates were convicted on arms trafficking charges.
In a statement yesterday, Mrs Pengelly said it would be an “incredible privilege” to serve the people of the constituency.
“I am determined to be a strong advocate for all the people of the constituency and help build on the foundation laid by Jimmy Spratt,” she said.
“I wish him well in his retirement.
“South Belfast is a diverse constituency with some challenges but many more opportunities. I look forward to working with all sections of the community, including the large employers within the education and health sectors and the voluntary sectors, to continue to build a vibrant and strong economy and to ensure South Belfast remains a great place to live, study, work and visit.”
Mr Robinson, who has temporarily stood down as First Minister amid the current political crisis, said: “I would like once again to pay tribute to Jimmy Spratt for his dedication and service both to the DUP and to the South Belfast constituency. I am delighted, however, that the constituency will have such a talented policy expert as Emma working on its behalf.
“She has worked very closely with many community and voluntary organisations over the last number of years, and in South Belfast she was instrumental in bringing forward the ‘Urban Villages’ programme which will help tackle dereliction within the Sandy Row/Donegall Pass area of the constituency. She will be a first-rate representative for South Belfast representing a new generation of talent within the DUP.”
The DUP said Mrs Pengelly also intends to contest the South Belfast seat at next year’s Assembly election.
Mr Spratt said: “I have been involved in public service for my entire career and today marks a very significant milestone. Whilst I am sad to be leaving the Assembly I know that the constituency will be represented by someone with talent, enthusiasm and a wealth of fresh ideas to build into the future.
“Emma is someone who will make a mark not just in South Belfast but across Northern Ireland. On victims, community infrastructure and many key areas of government she is an expert on not just the legislation and the detail but on the practical application.”
Winner of Finucane award
The new DUP MLA featured on the front page of the News Letter in 2003 when the then 23-year-old law student accepted the prestigious Patrick Finucane Bursary for coming top of her class at Queen’s University in the area of criminal indictment – despite previous unionist protests about the name of the award.
The previous year she had served as the elected deputy president of the Students’ Union at Queen’s.
On leaving university, she immediately became a part-time law lecturer at Queen’s, as well as working as a barrister.
In 2007, she was appointed as a special adviser to the then First Minister Ian Paisley and she retained that position after he was succeeded by Peter Robinson the following year.
Among her areas of responsibility as a Spad were victims policy and the Social Investment Fund.