Political news

Snubbed DUP councillor claims Pengelly promotion 'wrong'

Belfast DUP councillor Ruth Patterson has described the appointment of Emma Pengelly as 'democracy at its worst'. Picture by Bill Smith

THE Belfast councillor who says she was snubbed by the DUP leadership when Emma Pengelly was co-opted to the assembly has criticised her fast-track promotion to the Stormont executive.

Ruth Patterson told The Irish News the former barrister's appointment as a junior minister was "wrong, wrong, wrong".

She described the decision as "democracy at its worst" and claimed it would jeopardise DUP votes in the forthcoming assembly election.

Mrs Pengelly has been appointed a junior minister just one month after being co-opted to the assembly to replace Jimmy Spratt in South Belfast.

Her combined earnings this year as a special adviser, MLA and junior minister – along with a £45,000-plus severance package she received when leaving her Spad post – are expected to be in the region of £128,000.

The 35-year-old, who has yet to speak in the assembly, is expected to resign her place on Stormont's finance committee - which is conducting a high-profile inquiry into the sale of Nama's northern loans portfolio - as the rules forbid ministers sitting on committees.

Mrs Pengelly acknowledged yesterday she has not yet stood for election but said she was an "incredibly hard worker" and people should judge her on her actions.

Ms Patterson claimed her remarks were "not sour grapes" and that her concern was not about the new junior minister personally.

She said she was "shocked" when she heard news of appointment - "but not entirely surprised".

The former UDR woman spoke out last month when she was overlooked by DUP headquarters for the assembly seat left vacant by Mr Spratt's departure.

Ms Patterson received 3,800 first preference votes in the 2011 assembly election and narrowly missed out on becoming the party's second elected MLA in South Belfast.

She said Mrs Pengelly is "an unelected representative who never stood for election and never ran the gauntlet of an election, whereas I earned my votes".

"I have no axe to grind but this is democracy at its worst."

The Belfast councillor claimed Peter Robinson has a "golden circle" and is surrounding himself with "people he believes will protect him".

Ms Patterson also claimed revelations in The Irish News about the £45,000-plus severance package Ms Pengelly received when she left OFMDFM to become an MLA would damage the party.

"The people in South Belfast who gave me their votes last time will be thinking where they' put their vote next time," she said.

"This whole episode is not doing the DUP any good whatsoever – I love the party but I do not like the direction which it is being led."

The TUV called on Mrs Pengelly last night to "refuse of repay" the severance package.

Comber councillor Stephen Copper said: "We pointed out that the huge severance payment will leave a bad taste in the mouth of many members of the public, particularly when one considers that she left a generously paid taxpayer-funded job to serve in public office."

Speaking on Wednesday, Mrs Pengelly defended her lack of a mandate.

She said multi-member constituencies made by-elections difficult in the event of an MLA retiring mid-term.

"There are DUP votes in South Belfast – those DUP votes did elect somebody."

Mrs Pengelly said she was "taking on the work of Jimmy Spratt" and would bring a "great deal of experience" to her new role in the department she served as a Spad.

She also indicated that she may spend some of her severance payment on her constituency work, although she had yet to receive it.

"The severance payment is statutory severance built up over the course of almost nine years I was in the department," she said.

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