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Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly Alamy Stock Photo

Who is Emma Little-Pengelly, Northern Ireland's new Deputy First Minister?

Little-Pengelly is taking up the role despite not being elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

EMMA LITTLE-PENGELLY, the new Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, is the first unionist to hold the position. 

The DUP MLA was appointed to the role on Saturday, along with Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill as First Minister, as powersharing institutions returned after a two-year hiatus.

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister hold a joint office and have equal power in their positions. 

Little-Pengelly, interestingly, is taking up the role despite not being elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

She was, instead, co-opted to replace her party leader Jeffrey Donaldson on the Stormont benches in May 2022. 

Donaldson won the seat in Lagan Valley – the constituency he represents at Westminster – in the North’s 2022 general election.

However, he decided to remain at Westminster as an MP. Little-Pengelly was chosen to step into his seat as an MLA. 

So, what else do we know about Emma Little-Pengelly? 

Little-Pengelly, aged 44, was raised in Markethill, Co Armagh, according to BBC News

She studied law at Queen’s University Belfast from 1998 to 2011. She also studied for a time at Harvard. 

She was called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 2003 and has worked as a barrister through the years. 

Little-Pengelly is married to Richard Pengelly, the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland. 

Looking at her political career, she served as a special adviser to Ian Paisley when he was First Minister and remained in the role when Peter Robinson took over as First Minister.

She was co-opted as an MLA for Belfast South in 2015, replacing Jimmy Spratt. 

She was appointed a Junior Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive Office in October 2015 and was elected again in May 2016.

Following this election, she took on the role as Chairperson for the Finance Committee. 

Little-Pengelly lost her seat in the March 2017 election when the number of seats per constituency was reduced from six to five. 

However, a few months later she was elected to represent Belfast South as an MP in Westminster. She remained in this role until 2019 when she lost her seat. 

dup-leader-arlene-foster-right-with-party-colleague-emma-little-pengelly-mp-speaking-with-media-after-a-meeting-with-political-and-church-leaders-to-meet-and-take-stock-of-the-first-week-of-talks-at Then-DUP leader Arlene Foster (right) with Emma Little-Pengelly in May 2019 Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

She went on to become a special adviser to then-First Minister Arlene Foster. The Irish News reported that she said in June 2021 she was stepping away from her DUP role after being “deeply saddened” over tensions following Edwin Poots’ election as leader to the party. 

The time away from the party was short lived as she returned when she was co-opted to Donaldson’s seat in 2022.

Fast forward to last weekend, as she took up the position of Deputy First Minister, Little-Pengelly said she and Michelle O’Neill come from “very different backgrounds”, but for her part she will work “tirelessly to ensure that we can deliver for all in Northern Ireland”.

The first plenary session of the Northern Ireland Assembly is taking place this morning following the restoration of powersharing on Saturday. 

Includes reporting by Press Association

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