Emma Little-Pengelly, a former MP and MLA, has been co-opted to take DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson’s seat in the Stormont Assembly.
The announcement means that when the Assembly meets for the first time today it will already look slightly different to the one chosen by voters last week; Sir Jeffrey topped the poll in Lagan Valley but revealed afterwards that he would not take his seat or nominate Executive ministers until the Northern Ireland Protocol is replaced with "new arrangements that respect Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom”.
Under rules to prevent double jobbing, the DUP had eight days to co-opt a replacement for Stormont and the party has chosen Ms Little-Pengelly - a barrister who until recently worked as a special advisor to Arlene Foster as First Minister.
"Emma will be a first class advocate for people and will work hard to advance the issues that matter to everyone in Lagan Valley,” Sir Jeffrey said.
I am committed to doing all I can to make Northern Ireland the best place it can be.
I'm humbled to take this temporary role to give support to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as he tackles the huge issue of the Protocol.
I promise to work hard for all in Lagan Valley ♥️ #BrighterFuture
— Emma Little-Pengelly BL (@little_pengelly) May 12, 2022
No newcomer to politics, Ms Little-Pengelly was elected to Stormont to represent Belfast South in 2016 but lost her seat less than a year later in the snap election of 2017.
Months later she was elected as the MP for Belfast South - the first DUP candidate to represent Northern Ireland’s most diverse and liberal seat in the House of Commons.
However, the seat had voted strongly for Remain in the EU referendum and when Britain went to the polls again in 2019, with Boris Johnson urging the country to ‘Get Brexit Done’, Ms Little-Pengelly found herself out of a job once more. The SDLP candidate, Claire Hanna, won by a margin of 15,401 votes.
Now she is back in politics, albeit representing a rural stronghold of Ulster unionism and in a legislature that is currently unable to function.
Negotiations regarding the protocol remain ongoing but Simon Coveney said that British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič “had a very difficult call” yesterday.
"We've been here before,” Mr Coveney told The Hard Shoulder.
“This is deeply unhelpful - because I think there is an appetite in the European Commission, and there certainly is here in Dublin, to seek compromise, to look at maximum flexibility in terms of how the Protocol is implemented".
The British Government is keen to satisfy the DUP and at a press conference in Sweden on Wednesday Mr Johnson said the protocol was undermining the Good Friday Agreement:
“That [the GFA] is crucial for the stability of our country of the UK, of Northern Ireland. And it’s got to be that means that things have got to command across community support,” he said.
“Plainly the Northern Ireland Protocol fails to do that and we need to sort it out.”
For many months, the British have been upfront that if negotiations do not conclude to their satisfaction they will invoke Article 16 of the Withdrawal Agreement - a clause allowing them to override aspects of the protocol.
The EU previously used it to ban the export of vaccines to Northern Ireland in early 2021 but u-turned and apologised.
Now Brussels is aghast at the prospect that it could be used again and hinted that it could retaliate by placing tariffs on British goods.
Even the White House has got involved and a spokeswoman urged both sides “to continue engaging in dialogue to resolve differences and bring negotiations to a successful conclusion.”
Main image: Emma Little-Pengelly speaking at the DUP's General Election manifesto launch in 2017. Picture by: Alamy.com