MP had doubts about taking big promotion

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Hemel Hempstead MP and former soldier Mike Penning expressed doubts as to whether he should have been promoted to a ministerial post in Northern Ireland at an hour long meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron

Mr Penning revealed his high-level discussions to a business meeting and said he asked Mr Cameron whether he thought Northern Ireland would accept a former squaddie who served in the province going back as a minister.

The MP, who joined up as a boy soldier and served with the Grenadier Guards, told a breakfast meeting in Apsley that the answer from his boss was an emphatic yes.

“The situation there is very, very difficult,” said Mr Penning, who was a transport minister before his change of role “Not nearly at the same level as the 1970s but we have about 500 dissident republicans.”

He told his audience at Shendish Manor that recent terrorist attacks featured arms and explosives that had been around since the 1980s. These included an AK47 assault rifle used in one recent attack that had been supplied by dead Libyan dictator Colonel Gadaffi.

Mr Penning also revealed his new role involved being protected by personal security officers, which he found a “restriction on my freedom.” But he added he accepted the officers had a job to do.

Mr Penning added the new job allows him to spend more time in his constituency because it only takes 55 minutes to fly to the province.