Northern Ireland

MLAs 'should provide substitute list' after DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly co-opted

The DUPs Emma Little-Pengelly at Stormont yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell
The DUPs Emma Little-Pengelly at Stormont yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell

AN elections expert has suggested MLAs should provide a list of potential substitutes after DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson stood aside days after the assembly election.

In a surprise move former south Belfast MP Emma Little-Pengelly was co-opted to take Mr Donaldson's Lagan Valley assembly seat.

Mr Donaldson revealed that he intends to remain at Westminster as an MP until issues with the protocol are resolved.

Ms Little-Pengelly previously served as a DUP special adviser and served as MP for South Belfast from 2015-17. She was pictured at Stormont yesterday as elected members returned to the hill.

Slugger O'Toole deputy editor David McCann said the DUP decision to replace the party leader with Ms Little Pengelly doesn't breach any rules.

"It's well within the rules as they are set out at the moment and obviously other parties have made use of the co-option system," he said.

"But I don't recall another time in the Good Friday Agreement era that we have had a co-option so soon into a mandate, literally before the assembly has even sat down. I think it raises the wider issue in terms of a general point about co-option, that the public don't always understand how people can basically be put into assembly seats without any form of election."

Mr McCann explained that prior to 2009 MLAs provided a "list of substitutes" and if "that MLA stepped down you would know who would take that seat afterwards".

Mr McCann suggested a return to the old system.

"I would move back to something like that, at least it means the public would know," he said.

"So say Jeffrey Donaldson doesn't take up his seat, well, you would have a list there of people who could take it up and if Emma's name was on that list at least the public would have known that would have been the case."