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Fast-tracked DUP minister under fire

Party colleague's broadside at Pengelly's lightning rise to inner circle

By Rebecca Black

Published 29/10/2015

New Junior Minister Emma Pengelly
New Junior Minister Emma Pengelly
Ruth Patterson

Emma Pengelly's ministerial appointment within weeks of being co-opted to the Assembly has attracted criticism from one of her own party colleagues.

As first revealed in the Belfast Telegraph, former special advisor Ms Pengelly has become a Junior Minister in the very department where she worked for almost nine years.

The promotion, which came just four weeks after she was co-opted to the Assembly to replace South Belfast MLA Jimmy Spratt who stood down due to poor health, was confirmed by the DUP yesterday morning.

Councillor Ruth Patterson spoke out about that appointment, revealing to the Belfast Telegraph that she felt she had been snubbed by her party leader Peter Robinson.

However, Ms Patterson was slapped down by outgoing MLA Mr Spratt, who told this newspaper that he would have remained in post despite his ill-health if he thought the veteran councillor would be his replacement.

Ms Patterson narrowly missed out on securing a second seat for the DUP in south Belfast at the last Assembly elections in 2011.

Yesterday Ms Pengelly's appointment as Junior Minister attracted further ire from Ms Patterson.

She hit out on social media, claiming "you really couldn't make this s*** up", before revealing she had asked Mr Robinson whether Ms Pengelly - who was also placed on the Stormont finance committee recently - had been promised anything when she became an MLA.

"Now I know why he wouldn't respond when I asked him had she been promised something," Ms Patterson claimed.

Later on she spoke out in an interview with the BBC, claiming she has "nothing against" Ms Pengelly, but questioned why she was being promoted so quickly when she has not yet received a single vote.

"There is a principle of giving someone who has been around the chance, rather than giving it to someone who has not one solitary vote; they have never ran for election, they have never run the gauntlet," she said.

Ms Patterson denied "sour grapes".

"Anyone in my position would feel the same," she claimed.

Meanwhile Ms Pengelly has responded to criticism of the £45,000 she is due to receive as a severance payment after leaving her role as a special advisor.

She said she intended to spend a considerable amount of the money on her constituency work in South Belfast, and explained she had neither applied for nor asked for the severance payment, and that it would be paid automatically on a statutory basis after she spent almost nine years as a special adviser.

Ms Pengelly has insisted she will bring her experience as an OFMDFM special advisor to the role of Junior Minister.

"I have developed a sound understanding of my new role through my experience as a special adviser and I look forward to the challenges that this new post will present me with," she said.

"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."

First Minister Peter Robinson said he has "every confidence" in his new 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," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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