Emma Pengelly fast-tracked as DUP junior Minister

Appointment after four weeks as MLA likely to cause resentment within DUP

DUP Assembly member Emma Pengelly has been appointed a junior Minister in the Northern Executive - just four weeks after she was co-opted as the MLA for South Belfast.

The further "fast-tracking" of Ms Pengelly, a 35-year-old barrister, was announced on Wednesday by First Minister Peter Robinson. She succeeds Michelle McIlveen who was last month appointed as DUP regional development Minister after Ulster Unionist Party Minister Danny Kennedy withdrew from that post in the aftermath of the murder of Belfast republican Kevin McGuigan.

Ms Pengelly will be a junior Minister in the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister where, before her co-option last month, she worked as a special adviser for Mr Robinson and prior to that for the late Ian Paisley.

She specialised in policy areas including victims and survivors, community relations, childcare and historic institutional abuse.


On September 28th she was co-opted as an Assembly member for the South Belfast constituency, replacing Jimmy Spratt who stood down on health grounds.

Her swift appointment as junior Minister has caused surprise and, it is likely, resentment among some DUP politicians who feel they have not received proper preferment from Mr Robinson.

That was reflected by the response of Belfast councillor Ruth Patterson who narrowly failed to be elected as a DUP MLA in South Belfast in the 2011 Assembly elections.

Ms Patterson based on that performance believed she was in the running to be co-opted. She said she felt “snubbed”, “frustrated” and “disappointed” that Mr Robinson had “overlooked” her in favour of Ms Pengelly.

Despite being an MLA for just four weeks, Ms Pengelly has been garnering plenty of local headlines.

There was criticism of her being in line to receive a severance pay of £46,000 in standing down from her £92,000 per annum post as a special adviser. As a junior Minister she will be paid £60,000 per annum.

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister said Ms Pengelly should refuse to accept her “golden handshake” severance pay.

Ms Pengelly, a graduate of Queen's University, grew up in Markethill, Co Armagh and now lives in Belfast. Her husband is Richard Pengelly, permanent secretary of the North's Department of Health.

Ulster Resistance

She recently spoke of how her father Noel Little, a civil servant and founder member in 1986 with Mr Robinson and Dr Paisley of Ulster Resistance, was arrested in connection with an alleged plot to smuggle weapons from South Africa.

Mr Little and two others were arrested in Paris in April 1989 in the company of a South African diplomat with parts of a demonstration missile manufactured by Shorts in Belfast in their possession.

Mr Little, and his two co-accused denied they were seeking to import guns for Ulster Resistance in exchange for missile technology.

They were remanded in custody but were released in October 1991 after being fined and given suspended sentences.

In a recent interview in the Belfast Telegraph she was asked by Alex Kane if her father's background made it "easier to understand how people can get sucked into doing bad things and whether forgiveness and understanding have become part of her own psyche now".

“To me, the focus should be on transformation. I don’t think having a past is an issue if people transform and move on,” she said.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times