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Pengelly shows why we need electoral reform

The rather nebulous and Kafkaesque metamorphosis of Emma Pengelly from special advisor to unelected DUP MLA in South Belfast to replace Jimmy Spratt is one reason why electoral reform in Northern Ireland is urgently needed.

According to the Electoral Commission, the rules relating to the replacement of a MLA once a vacancy occurs are outlined in Part 6 (1) (b) of the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections Order 2001 and Part 6 of the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2009.

This means that, when a vacancy arises, the chief electoral officer for Northern Ireland contacts the nominating office of the political party of which the former MLA was a member of at the time of their election and asks them to provide a substitute.

Such a substitute must meet all the qualification requirements to be a candidate and MLA. A by-election would only be required if the nominating officer failed to provide a substitute and/or if such a person declined to take the position of MLA.

In other words, to the layman, Ms Pengelly's nomination and substitution is merely done by the old and trusted method of "nod and wink" from a pal, without having to bother to ask the electorate their opinion. Thus, it would appear from this that MLAs are like sausages: it's best not to know how they are made.


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