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DUP keeps coalition options open, as 'little difference between Labour and Tories’ attitude to Northern Ireland'

By Liam Clarke

Published 22/04/2015

Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds at the launch yesterday
Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds at the launch yesterday

There is so little difference between the spending plans of Labour and the Conservatives that the DUP could choose to back either, Peter Robinson has said.

Speaking at the launch of the DUP's election manifesto, the First Minister revealed that economists asked to analyse Labour and Tory plans for Northern Ireland had found only 0.01% of a difference.

"Remarkably there is only a gap of £1m out of a £10bn budget between the two parties' proposals as presently detailed. So it will be their attitude to the Northern Ireland Plan that will make the difference," he said.

The DUP is keen to stress that if it keeps its current eight MPs - or even gains one or two -then it could be kingmaker in the hung parliament expected to follow the general election.

Mr Robinson may have been reacting to criticisms from rivals that the DUP is bound to back the Tories because of their stance on such issues as the Union; defence spending, which they want raised; and Europe, which they want a referendum on.

Mr Robinson said: "Both manifestos contain policies which could easily command our support and both contain measures that will involve difficult decisions and choices. Though both parties have a different approach on areas such as deficit reduction, taxation and public expenditure, we believe that both of their manifestos represent a credible starting point for negotiations." The DUP manifesto and Northern Ireland Plan lists 45 priorities in negotiations with London.

Mr Robinson claimed much of it could command cross-community support.

The main pledges are: to make Northern Ireland an economic powerhouse; deliver world-class public services; create a society based on fairness and opportunity for everyone; to make politics and government work better in Northern Ireland; and enhance British identity.

The last item was explained in more detail by Nigel Dodds, the DUP parliamentary leader.

"From Westminster we want protection in law for the official display of the Union flag and the symbols of our identity," he said.

"It means that we want arrangements to ensure that a Northern Ireland perspective is taken into account with direct access to decision-makers in Whitehall."

Other pledges included the abolition of the Parades Commission and a "new start" on parades; for 2% of GDP to be spent on defence and the nuclear deterrent retained; a UK-wide ban on legal highs, and a freeze in the BBC licence fee as a first step to reducing or abolishing it.

Mr Robinson said he thought any arrangement between the DUP and the Government would be on a vote-by-vote basis.

"I think that one or other of the two main parties will say we are moving forward as a minority government and they will garner sufficient support for the key votes."

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