Emma Pengelly has been officially appointed as a junior minister in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).
The recently co-opted DUP MLA for South Belfast becomes the first ministerial appointee to the Stormont Executive in living memory not to have fought an election – and certainly the first since the current devolved administration was set up in 1998.
Mrs Pengelly is a qualified barrister who had been a special advisor (Spad)to OFMDFM, on a salary of almost £92,000, before taking a pay cut to become an MLA. Her appointment as an MLA has proved controversial, with one of the party’s councillors in South Belfast saying the former Spad had been “parachuted in” with “no electoral mandate whatsoever”.
Cllr Ruth Patterson said that although she wished Mrs Pengelly well, “the feeling amongst many grassroots unionists in South Belfast is that their vote has been taken for granted”.
Announcing the appointment as junior minister, Peter Robinson said: “I have every confidence that Emma will be an excellent junior minister. She has a vast and in-depth knowledge of the many issues the department deals with and I have no doubt that she will use her experience, commitment and talent to drive initiatives forward that will improve the lives of everyone in Northern Ireland.”
Mrs Pengelly said she was delighted with the appointment.
“I have developed a sound understanding of my new role through my experience as a special advisor and I look forward to the challenges that this new post will present me with. I am determined to build on the sound foundations laid by my predecessor Michelle McIlveen and I will work with our community to help make Northern Ireland a great place to live, work and invest,” she added.
Political commentator Alex Kane has expressed reservations, posting a Twitter message saying he didn’t think an unelected MLA should be a minister or junior minister.
“It crosses an important line,” he said.