Nama: DUP's Emma Pengelly denies 'conflict of interest'

The DUP's Emma Pengelly at the assembly finance committee on Wednesday
Brendan Hughes

THE DUP's newest assembly member has dismissed concerns of a "conflict of interest" over any role of her husband in Stormont's dealings with Nama.

Emma Pengelly said, "both my husband and I are professionals," and insisted any suggestions of a conflict of interest were wrongly perceived.

The South Belfast MLA, a former special adviser to First Minister Peter Robinson, has been placed on the finance committee amid its inquiry into the Nama scandal.

Her husband Richard Pengelly was a senior civil servant at the Department of Finance during discussions over Nama's northern property portfolio.

The Republic's 'bad bank' sold its northern loan book last year to US firm Cerberus for more than £1bn.

Parliamentary probes and a criminal investigation were launched following claims that £7m linked to its sale was earmarked for a northern politician or party.

Mr Pengelly was mentioned in documents released last week by the Republic's finance department.

The correspondence appears to show Mr Pengelly, now permanent secretary at the Department of Health, was involved in discussions to set up Nama's Northern Ireland advisory committee.

He was recommended alongside businessman Frank Cushnahan to join the advisory group by then finance minister, the DUP's Sammy Wilson.

Nama eventually appointed Mr Cushnahan and former Housing Executive chairman Brian Rowntree.

Emma and Richard Pengelly met in 2010 and married last summer.

Yesterday as the finance committee discussed its Nama probe Mrs Pengelly said she wished to make a "declaration of interest" because of her husband's role.

"I do think it would be appropriate for me to have a declaration of interest. My husband was a senior official in the Department of Finance and Personnel until December 2012," she said.

However, she rejected a suggestion from Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir that she should not take part in committee discussions related to Nama.

"Both my husband and I are professionals. My view is not in terms of a conflict of interest in terms of our roles. Perhaps it may be perceived but the fact is that there is not," she said.

Members agreed to call Mr Pengelly to appear at the committee's Nama probe.

Mrs Pengelly was last week co-opted to the DUP's South Belfast assembly seat to replace Jimmy Spratt who has left on health grounds.

Until her appointment she worked for more than eight years as a special adviser to First Minister Peter Robinson, receiving a salary of more than £90,000.

She was moved onto the finance committee committee alongside East Antrim MLA Gordon Lyons to replace Adrian McQuillan and Paul Girvan.

In July Mr Girvan described the alleged Nama property deal as a "dirty scheme".

The appointment of Mrs Pengelly, a qualified barrister, and Mr Lyons is seen as a tactical move to minimise damage to the DUP as party members face questions over the Nama controversy.

DUP leader Peter Robinson is due to appear before the committee next Wednesday.

It follows claims made at the committee last month by loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson that Mr Robinson was set to share in a "success fee" linked to the Nama deal.

Mr Robinson has strenuously denied the allegations as "scurrilous and unfounded".

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