DUP's new MLA Emma Pengelly is given Nama probe role just two days into job
A former special adviser to Peter Robinson is being drafted on to the Stormont committee investigating the Nama property scandal.
Emma Pengelly is one of two new DUP appointees to the panel of MLAs examining the controversial £1.2 billion fire-sale.
The former aide was selected within 48 hours of being announced as an MLA.
The other new face is Gordon Lyons, previously an assistant to ex-Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.
Stormont's finance committee is probing allegations linked to the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland assets.
A former barrister, Mrs Pengelly was employed as a £92,000-a-year special adviser (Spad) to Mr Robinson and she is widely viewed as a rising star within the party.
Appointments to Stormont committees are the prerogative of the parties, who choose the most suitable candidate for the post.
And, while no one doubts Mrs Pengelly's personal integrity, some will view her appointment as controversial.
Nama's 850-property Northern Ireland portfolio was bought by a US investment firm in April 2014.
It has been alleged in the Dail that £7m in an off-shore bank account linked to the deal had been earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician.
Last week it was claimed that Mr Robinson was one of five people due to benefit from the sale.
Mr Robinson has strongly denied the allegations.
Last night TUV leader Jim Allister said: "I think it's a questionable appointment because of the public perception.
"She is now part of an investigation that reaches into the heart of the office she has just left."
Mrs Pengelly was chosen to replace Jimmy Spratt, the DUP's South Belfast MLA, who stepped down due to health reasons.
Her appointment was announced on Monday.
The appointment of Mrs Pengelly and Mr Lyons to the finance committee emerged in a briefing paper circulated to MLAs yesterday. They will be formally nominated on Monday.
When contacted yesterday, Mrs Pengelly said she had no knowledge of her appointment.
"I am not involved in it at the minute. I understand there is a proposal put forward by the party for the business committee, so I wouldn't be in a position to confirm that," she said,
"I am not clear about what committee I am going on to."
Mrs Pengelly's husband, Richard Pengelly, is the permanent secretary of the Department of Health and was one of three people nominated to sit on Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee, although he didn't end up in the role.
It was set up in 2010 as a compromise after then Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan ruled out a Northern Ireland presence on the Nama board. Party sources said Mr and Mrs Pengelly were not in a relationship at the time.
Yesterday a committee source expressed concerns about Mrs Pengelly's appointment.
"She was special adviser to Peter Robinson, but you also have the fact that she was married to Richard Pengelly," they said.
"Richard was in DFP (the Department of Finance and Personnel) and was across all the Nama stuff."
The second DUP appointee, Mr Lyons, was co-opted to replace Mr Wilson as MLA for East Antrim.
A former DUP policy officer, Mr Lyons worked as an assistant to Mr Wilson.
The outgoing MLAs are Adrian McQuillan and Paul Girvan.
It is understood some within the DUP were disappointed that claims about Mr Robinson at last Wednesday's committee meeting were not more robustly challenged by the party's MLAs.
Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson named the DUP leader among five people he alleged would receive a share of a "success fee" linked to the sale of Nama's northern assets to US investment firm Cerberus.
The fee was to be paid into an off-shore account controlled by Ian Coulter, a former managing partner of Belfast law firm Tughans, the committee heard.
Mr Robinson, who is expected to appear before the committee, strenuously denied the allegations.
He said: "I repeat, I neither received, expected to receive, sought, nor was I offered a single penny as a result of the Nama sale."
Mr Robinson said the "scurrilous and unfounded allegations" lacked "one iota of evidence".
The finance committee has been investigating the sale of Nama's Northern Ireland loan book for almost three months.
It was set up in the wake of allegations made by the independent TD Mick Wallace.