Impact-Site-Verification: e1bff8e8-4aef-44d3-955c-fcc14af29f4b

Who is Emma-Little Pengelly, NI’s new deputy first minister

The new Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, Emma Little-Pengelly, represents another first for power-sharing government at Stormont.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) assembly member is the first unionist to hold the position.

The first and deputy first ministers hold a joint office and have equal power, but this is the first time a DUP member has taken up the ‘deputy’ designation following Sinn Féin’s success at the 2022 election.

Ms Little-Pengelly also takes up the role despite not having been elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly – she was instead appointed under its co-option system.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson selected her to take his seat days after his election to Stormont in 2022.

A qualified barrister, Ms Little-Pengelly has significant experience of both front-line politics and behind the scenes.

She was formerly an MP and a special adviser to three DUP first ministers – Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster.

Her husband is senior Stormont civil servant Richard Pengelly, who is currently permanent secretary of the Department of Justice.

Early life and entering politics

Ms Little-Pengelly, 44, grew up in Markethill, County Armagh.

She has previously spoken about her family home being damaged by a bomb in the village in 1991 during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Her father is Noel Little, one of the ‘Paris Three’ who were arrested in the 1980s for arms trafficking for the loyalist Ulster Resistance group.

Press EyeEmma Little-Pengelly, second from left, being appointed as an MLA in 2015

Ms Little-Pengelly studied law at Queen’s University Belfast, where she became involved in student politics.

She was appointed as a special adviser to Ian Paisley when he was first minister and stayed in the job when Peter Robinson succeeded him.

In 2015, she was co-opted to the assembly by the DUP for the Belfast South constituency and was shortly afterwards appointed as a junior minister.

She was elected in 2016 but lost her seat in a snap assembly election the following year when the number of seats per constituency was reduced from six to five.

Ms Little-Pengelly bounced back months later when she was elected to represent Belfast South at Westminster.

She was an MP for more than two years but lost her seat in an early general election in 2019.

Jungle plans and Stormont comeback

In January 2020, Ms Little-Pengelly became a special adviser to then first minister Arlene Foster when a new Stormont executive was formed after a three-year hiatus.

After Baroness Foster quit as DUP leader and first minister in 2021 following a leadership revolt, Ms Little-Pengelly announced she was also stepping down.

Getty ImagesDUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson selected Ms Little-Pengelly to take his assembly seat days after his election to Stormont in May 2022

She said it was the “right time” to pursue “other interests for the next number of years”, including plans to volunteer abroad with an animal wildlife sanctuary in the south-east Asian jungle.

But less than a year later she made another political comeback as she was co-opted to DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s assembly seat in the Lagan Valley constituency.

Sir Jeffrey, who is MP for Lagan Valley, said after the May 2022 election he intended to remain at Westminster until the DUP’s concerns with post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland were resolved.

The DUP leader gave Ms Little-Pengelly the Executive Office portfolio in a reshuffle of his Stormont team, signalling that she was being lined up for the deputy first minister post.

Sir Jeffrey also appointed Ms Little-Pengelly to the DUP’s decision-making officer board.

Now, Ms Little-Pengelly will be taking up a major role leading Northern Ireland’s restored power-sharing government.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ftgsedfa ftgsedfa