Emma Little-Pengelly, the co-opted DUP MLA widely tipped to be deputy first minister should her party return to power-sharing, has become embroiled in a public spat with a councillor who quit the DUP last week amid bullying claims.
The former MP claimed it was “profoundly wrong” for David Clarke to resign from the DUP but retain his council seat.
The Mid and East Antrim councillor quit the DUP within a matter of months after being co-opted and will now sit as an independent.
He underwent what he described as an “intensive” interview process to replace Cheryl Brownlee on the council, including being interviewed by the DUP’s officer board.
Ms Brownlee was co-opted into the assembly as an East Antrim MLA in place of the late David Hilditch.
But Mr Clarke (33) said he was forced to quit the party because of “bullying” which left him in hospital with heart palpitations.
The DUP has not commented on the allegations.
In a weekend post on Facebook which has since been removed, Ms Little-Pengelly claimed Mr Clarke has “no moral right” to retain his set.
The Lagan Valley MLA, who was co-opted into the assembly days after her party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson won the seat in May 2022, said she was sorry things had not worked out for the councillor and that he “found it tough”.
“Nevertheless, it has to be said that it is profoundly wrong for you to resign from the party and not from the council seat,” she said.
Describing herself as a “fellow co-optee” Ms Little-Pengelly said Mr Clarke’s seat was “obtained from people voting for Cheryl Brownlee as a DUP candidate and that he has “no moral right” to remain on the council.
“I am incredibly shocked that you would have the audacity to even contemplate holding on to a seat that you didn’t win and are no longer representing those voters who wanted a DUP rep.”
She urged Mr Clarke to “do the right thing and resign the seat”
Responding to the remarks, Mr Clarke said “unlike Emma” he had applied for the councillor’s role with “a letter of application, CV and sat a long and intensive interview with the full party officer team minus Gregory Campbell”.
“What sort of process did Emma go through for her Lagan Valley seat or for the potential DFM (deputy first minster) seat or her rise to party officer?” he said.
In a further Facebook post, Ms Little-Pengelly said she “no interest in engaging in any arguments” with the councillor and wanted to avoid comments “that descend into the personal or nasty”.
He said he had been contacted by DUP members “who do not condone” Ms Little-Pengelly’s actions.
“I think you should apologise for your actions here this afternoon and what you started unprovoked,” he said.