Emma Pengelly: 'What will I say about Daddy? That I love him, and my love is unconditional'
Writing exclusively for the Belfast Telegraph, Emma Pengelly, DUP MLA for South Belfast, explains in her own words how the conviction of her father for loyalist gunrunning during the Troubles affected her life - and why she won't disown her dad
Although many will be surprised that I feel this way, I genuinely believe my rather unusual childhood has been a good thing. Why?
Well, because it forced me to face some very difficult things and because of that I gained qualities that have served me well thus far and which I bring into public life - resilience, strength of character, a determination to work hard and, most of all, a genuine compassion for people and the struggles we often have to face and endure. These have formed the character I am today and it is what has given me my passion and drive to help and support people in making their lives better.
We often don't have a choice in the difficulties that we face - poverty, bereavement, ill health can hit us or our family at any time. In my case it was the sudden and unexpected arrest of my father in Paris, leading to him losing his job, being away from us for some years and the subsequent profound impact on my family's life.
What my experience has taught me is that personal circumstances need not dictate the pathway for our lives.
That is why I am passionate about helping people to improve their lives and break free from what can often seem like the shackles of their circumstances. I don't want there to be poverty or disadvantage for anyone and will strive to tackle both, but I also firmly believe that poverty need not mean educational failure, disadvantage, poorer health and unemployment.
Working together we can ensure our young people can succeed regardless of circumstance or background.
That is the message I bring to communities in South Belfast and across Northern Ireland. My passion and commitment on this agenda is why I helped create and deliver the Delivering Social Change policy across government, including our numeracy and literacy scheme creating hundreds of improved results in GCSE English and maths.
My mother, a woman of great personal faith and determination, refused to allow the significant change in our family and financial circumstances to damage our education.
She instilled in me that with hard work and by using your brain you could change your life, and for this wisdom I owe her a huge debt of gratitude.
I firmly believe that every child has the potential to succeed with the right encouragement and support.
I want to do my best to make this a reality. I neither wear my experience with a badge of shame nor a badge of pride.
It is simply part of my childhood, a part I could do nothing to change. I am thankful, strange as that may seem, that I have had a challenging and different journey.
It helps me see things from a different perspective and most of all it has taught me important lessons about the dangers of judging people on their circumstances.
I believe we all should be judged only on our own merits, and on what we do for others. I am excited and eager to serve the people of South Belfast. Thus far I have been fortunate to work with and for those who have judged me only on my ability and my actions.
I count it as a tremendous privilege to be an MLA for South Belfast and I would ask people to judge me for the hard work, passion and commitment that I am determined to give to all across the constituency.
I have never hidden what I have been through but nor have I allowed it to be a negative impact on my life, hopes and aspirations.
Similarly I have never used it as an excuse. I have had my own challenges, however it does not even begin to compare with the incredible loss and pain suffered by the victims and survivors of the Troubles. I know their pain cannot be taken away, or their loss replaced, but I also know they must never be forgotten, that victims are not "the past" but are our present.
I am humbled when I speak with them and this has driven my commitment to continuing my work on supporting victims - in particular in helping shape the new Mental Health and Trauma Service announced by the Health Minister which is so badly needed.
Just because someone may have a past should not mean you cannot have a future.
Sadly very often and for too many people the opposite is true. There are many thousands of people who have been through much over the decades - regardless of who we are and what we have endured I know we all have a positive role to play in seeking to build the brighter and shared future for Northern Ireland that so many of us want to see.
What comment do I have on my Daddy? Simply put, I love him, he is the only one I will ever have, and my love for him is unconditional.