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Don't judge Emma Pengelly MLA for her father's sins

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 01/10/2015

Emma Pengelly
Emma Pengelly

While new DUP MLA for South Belfast Emma Pengelly may not have been entirely candid about her background in her initial in-depth interview with this newspaper, she subsequently has been very transparent, both in a personal article and in an interview on her challenging childhood.

Her father, Noel Little, was one of three men convicted in Paris for their part in a suspected loyalist gunrunning plot. At the time, she was a child, and, of course, it would be wrong to visit the sins of the father on her.

Ms Pengelly says her father has moved on from those times when he, like many others, made the wrong choices. She was entirely blameless for his conduct, and even if, as some people have pointed out, she has not condemned what he did, that is an understandable position for someone who obviously loves her father dearly.

She has made it clear that paramilitary groups should have left the stage in Northern Ireland long before now. Her experience has led her to understand that many people here have an undesirable past, but if they have taken the opportunity to transform their lives, they deserve a second chance.

Ms Pengelly was co-opted into the seat vacated by party colleague Jimmy Spratt, meaning that four of the six incumbents in the South Belfast constituency have joined the Assembly without being elected.

That would seem a negation of democracy, but otherwise the largest party in the area would inevitably win every by-election, again skewing the make-up of the constituency.

Ms Pengelly and the others will face the electorate next May, when new Assembly elections are due and when all of them will then get the verdict of the voters.

In her case, she seems to tick many of the boxes required of a public representative. She is obviously very bright, has a strong social conscience formed in part by the challenges her family faced after her father's arrest, and has an interrogative skillset gained from her previous career as a barrister, which should make her a valuable member of any scrutiny committee at Stormont.

She has already learned one important lesson about life as a public representative - Northern Ireland is a small community, and it is difficult to keep secrets, even if desiring to do so for the best of motives. Coming clean about her background has earned her a largely positive reaction.

Belfast Telegraph

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