DUP's Emma Pengelly to be new Junior Minister
From Spad to inner circle in just four weeks
The DUP's newest MLA has been appointed a Junior Minister, it can be revealed.
Emma Pengelly's new position in the Office of the First and deputy First Minister - where she served as special advisor, or Spad, for the last eight years - will be officially confirmed this morning.
It comes just a month after she was co-opted to replace Jimmy Spratt as MLA for South Belfast.
She told the Belfast Telegraph that the honour had come "out of the blue" and that she is "absolutely delighted".
"I am looking forward to the challenge and also the opportunities that it provides," she said.
"I come from having been a special advisor in the department, so I will obviously be aware of all of the key issues it has been involved with in the last eight years."
The former barrister said she is most passionate about driving forward a programme aimed at uniting communities called 'Together Building A United Community'.
"That is at a critical stage. There have been a number of pilots initiated and a lot of work to be done to continue to ensure that we get the results," she said.
Another programme she is passionate about provides work for newly-qualified teachers, giving them opportunities to assist in schools by helping the youngest pupils with their reading, right up to providing tuition for teenagers sitting their GCSE exams. The programme gave work to hundreds of new teachers last year.
"That's the type of initiative I am really passionate about - there was an improvement of more than 6% in the number of GCSE grades at C or better at some of the schools which took part," she said.
"Hopefully the second year's results will be just as good."
Ms Pengelly has had a stormy four weeks since becoming an MLA, with councillor Ruth Patterson claiming she had been "snubbed" for the seat.
Ms Patterson narrowly missed out on securing the DUP a second Assembly seat in south Belfast during the 2011 elections, and said that being "overlooked" by DUP leader Peter Robinson to replace Mr Spratt left her "frustrated" and "disappointed".
When asked how she felt about these comments from her party colleague, Ms Pengelly replied that she is a positive person and prefers to focus instead on positivity.
In the four weeks since becoming an MLA, Ms Pengelly has already started the process of setting up an all-party working group designed to tackle under-acheivement in education, and she said it has attracted a significant level of interest from members of a number of political parties across the chamber.
She also said she has also been very active in travelling around her south Belfast constituency meeting a number of individuals and groups.
"Last week I was attending a meeting in Sandy Row when in the office across the corridor was a social enterprise, Mango Street, a natural juice company that was helped by a social enterprise hub project I worked on," she said.
"That is the difference with being an MLA, you get to see how initiatives impact on people's lives. It's not just words, it actually makes a difference."