Former DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly hasn’t decided if she will remain in politics following the loss of her South Belfast seat in last month’s Westminster election.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday night, she said she needed time to “reflect and recharge” after her defeat.
Ms Little-Pengelly also outlined her plans to head to the jungle to volunteer with an animal wildlife sanctuary.
The former barrister was elected South Belfast MP in 2017, but the seat was won by the SDLP’s Claire Hanna in last month’s poll.
The only DUP Assembly vacancy has been filled by outgoing MEP Diane Dodds. But party sources have indicated that, if devolution is restored, the former MP and barrister could return to Stormont as a special adviser – a position she previously held before becoming an elected representative.
However, Ms Little-Pengelly said she needed time to decided on her next career move.
“I hope the Assembly gets up and running, and I will be involved in the talks over the next few weeks,” she said.
“I am passionate about politics but I need a bit of time to sort myself out and decide if I am going to remain personally involved.
“I will see what’s out there and take time to reflect and recover. I always knew it would be very tough to hold on to the South Belfast seat particularly in the context of a Brexit election.”
Ms Little-Pengelly said it had been a privilege to be the constituency’s MP.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Westminster – what an interesting time it was,” she said.
“I am in the process of winding up my constituency office and closing my cases.
“That should be done by the end of February and I could be volunteering abroad in an animal wildlife sanctuary in April.
“I’d plan to stay there between two and four weeks.”
She said it was something she had wanted to do from her student days.
“I had friends at university who went off to volunteer with the charity Raleigh International but I never could do that because I was working,” she said.
“I’ve always liked monkeys so I’m looking at an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo.
“There is also another wildlife sanctuary in Indonesia that I’m interested in. I will apply to them and see what’s available at a suitable time.
“I think it will be a really interesting challenge and I want to learn about animal sanctuaries and conservation.
“Some sanctuaries take groups of just eight volunteers and others take as many as 60. I’m looking forward to meeting people from across the world.”
Ms Little-Pengelly said she hadn’t discussed her decision to head to the jungle with any DUP colleagues.
But she said her husband Richard, who is the Department of Health permanent secretary, was “very supportive” of her decision to volunteer.
Ms Little-Pengelly, who celebrated her 40th birthday on Tuesday, met her £300 target of a fundraising drive within 48 hours.
“As I turn the big 40 (!!!), and after a rather bumpy year, I have decided to finally take the leap and go volunteering in an animal wildlife sanctury!” her Facebook post said.
“I am hoping to head off to the jungle in the first part of this year, so I am running this big birthday fundraiser to help with some volunteer costs to the organisation.
“Those who know me that I have long been a passionate advocate for animals, great and small.
“So what better way than to volunteer and see this vitally important work in action.”