Belfast Telegraph

Emma Little Pengelly 'not ruling out a return to politics', why she removed 'voter confusion' Facebook post and how Twitter trolling has increased

By Jonny Bell

Former DUP MLA Emma Little Pengelly has not ruled out a return to politics while also revealing that Twitter trolling has increased since the election.

On Sunday, the ousted South Belfast MLA alleged a campaign of dirty tricks saw her fail to secure her seat in the snap Assembly election.

She blamed voter confusion, saying leaflets advising voters that first preferences should go to her running mate Christopher Stalford were distributed in the areas where people should have voted for her as their number one.

She said at one polling station one person handed out leaflets and "misinformation" for "many hours".

And she hinted she could possibly seek re-election in a forthcoming election.

Mr Stalford refused to comment when asked if he knew who was behind the leaflet distribution and later Mrs Little Pengelly took down the Facebook post.

Former special advisor Mrs Little Pengelly took to Twitter to post: "I've only been "in politics" for 16 month, it has been one long "roast me" - brutal. Sad. Hateful. I remain a good kind person. goodbye."

She also tweeted a picture of herself in her barrister's wig, "So it's back to the bar."

The DUP member has often found herself the target of vicious criticism on social media and has in the past locked her account and blocked users.

In the aftermath of her election defeat, she tweeted a picture of the quote: "You know all the things you've always wanted to do? You should do them."

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph on Monday Mrs Little Pengelly said she was "calling people out" as Twitter trolling had "increased since the election".

She said: "I was calling people out on that and I won't be facilitating that kind of thing on my Twitter any further (as she has made her account private).  Obviously for now I don't have an elected role but remain to support the party in the negotiations in any way I can.

"I removed post as did not wish to attract any further public comment on the issue. The vote management problems in South Belfast are now with the party to look at. I have always tried to be a kind and positive person in all I have done including in my political role and thoroughly enjoyed representing the people of South Belfast.

"I will continue to do all that I can in whatever role to help build a better, brighter and shared future for all in Northern Ireland."

When asked if she was quitting politics she said: "I'm only in my mid 30s so I'm certainly not ruling it out at some stage in the future. I really enjoyed doing my best to represent and support constituents.

"I was in the middle of bringing forward a private members bill on animal cruelty which I would love to see taken forward and I set up and chaired the all party group on educational under-achievement - this work is so important. I'm sad I won't be able to continue in taking this forward."

More: NI Election: Little Pengelly blames DUP leaflet confusion for losing seat

In her Sunday morning Facebook post, she said: "I apologise to the voters in Stranmillis PS where Stalford 1 leaflets were handed out for many hours during election day and misinformation given out. Unfortunately this person would not leave.

"This should not have happened and there should not have been that confusion to you, the DUP voters.

"I can assure you I have raised it with the party.

"In an election where 25 votes separated Christopher and me, this confusion was unacceptable."

Mrs Little Pengelly added: "We fought a hard campaign and the DUP vote rose to 9,000 in this election.

"The DUP was once again the biggest party in South Belfast. This time around I lost Nettlefield PS as recommended No1 Little Pengelly (in order to try and ensure both DUP candidates got a similar first preference vote to give us the best chance of 2 seats), despite this my first preference vote equalled last year's."

Asked if he was party to the leaflets being handed out, Mr Stalford said he had no comment to make on that matter.

He added: "I have been on the receiving end of an Assembly election defeat and I know how sore it is.

"There is always the temptation to look for blame and think it is unfortunate we did not get two seats and I wish we had.

"I wish Emma all the very best for the future."

Asked again if he played any role in his leaflets being distributed, he said: "These accusations have been made two days after the vote and after the heat of a campaign battle and I have no further comment to make."

During the election campaign Mrs Little Pengelly's civil servant husband, the Department of Health head Richard Pengelly, hit the headlines amid controversy after an email was leaked in which he expressed concern over overtly political tweets by health staff.

He cited two from doctors which were critical of the DUP and Sinn Fein in his email.

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