Politics

DUP minister Emma Pengelly still has no special adviser

The DUP's Emma Pengelly still has no special adviser three months after becoming a minister. Picture by Mal McCann
The DUP's Emma Pengelly still has no special adviser three months after becoming a minister. Picture by Mal McCann The DUP's Emma Pengelly still has no special adviser three months after becoming a minister. Picture by Mal McCann

THE DUP's Emma Pengelly still has no special adviser three months after becoming a junior minister.

A former special adviser to the first minister, Ms Pengelly has previously defended the executive's use of 'Spads' amid criticism over their wages and accountability.

But for three months the South Belfast MLA has managed her ministerial workload without requiring the assistance of her own special adviser.

The DUP's Michelle McIlveen has also still not appointed a Spad – four months after becoming minister for the Department for Regional Development (DRD) following the UPP leaving the executive.

It comes despite the DUP last year joining with Sinn Féin to block an assembly bid to curb executive spending on special advisers.

The DUP promoted Ms Pengelly to the post of junior minister just a month after giving her the assembly seat vacated by a retiring Jimmy Spratt.

It sparked controversy after The Irish News revealed Ms Pengelly was set for a severance pay-out worth up to £45,000 despite voluntarily giving up her Spad role.

Before being appointed as an MLA in September she earned more than £90,000 as an adviser to then First Minister Peter Robinson.

In October the DUP and Sinn Féin were accused of being "united in greed" after they blocked an assembly bid to curb Spad spending.

The bill brought by Jim Allister would have reduced the cap on Spads' pay and slashed the number of Spads in the first and deputy first ministers' office from eight to four.

A week earlier the TUV leader and Ms Pengelly clashed over his proposals during a Stormont committee meeting.

Last night Mr Allister said he was surprised over Ms Pengelly not appointing a Spad following her "extremely robust defence of both the number and extortionate cost of special advisers".

"There will be those who will wonder how Mrs Pengelly has been able to get by for three months without a special adviser if they are so vital to the effective operation of government," he said.

The North Antrim MLA added: "I also note that the DRD minister has yet to appoint a Spad. Once again one wonders why these posts where so robustly defended by the DUP/Sinn Féin cabal."

In a single year the executive has spent £2m on special advisers – more than the Scottish and Welsh governments combined.

DRD confirmed that a Spad appointment has not yet been made by the minister.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister said: "A special adviser has not been appointed for junior minister Pengelly.

"There have been no other changes. Three special advisers are appointed to the First Minister and one special adviser post is allocated to the junior minister."

A DUP spokesman said: "It is difficult to recruit a suitably qualified person for a post which will expire in a matter for weeks. The party has been using its own personnel to assist the ministers where possible.

"The party does not believe in appointing people for the sake of filling a vacancy. Ultimately the public purse is the beneficiary.

"Ministers have been using existing Spads to cover temporary vacancies. Should suitable personnell become available we don't rule out filling posts."