Belfast Telegraph

DUP heads to No10 to work out agreement with Theresa May

By Suzanne Breen

Arlene Foster will take a shopping-list of demands to London next week as the price for her party supporting Theresa May's minority Tory government.

A DUP delegation is set to hold talks with Mrs May in Downing Street next week as the party pledged to help bring stability to Westminster.

The two parties are expected to produce a 'programme for government'.

Mrs Foster said she was determined to secure the "best possible deal" for Northern Ireland as the DUP became kingmakers following Thursday's election.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, the DUP leader said that she wanted to get a good Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.

And she suggested that the leverage that her party now enjoys means that the border poll, which Sinn Fein has been demanding, is off the table.

Mrs Foster pledged to work in the interests of the entire UK as she expressed willingness to help Mrs May form a government.

Government sources suggested the DUP's demands were likely to involve more money for Northern Ireland with "infrastructure and services" topping the party's wish-list. "The DUP are experts at playing this game. They know exactly what they want, but are never going to get too close to us," said a source.

However, another hinted it could cause Mrs May problems in Westminster, as it may commit her to spending on public services in Northern Ireland that she cannot hand out elsewhere.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams poured scorn on the likely deal between the DUP and the Tories.

"History will show, alliances between Ulster unionism and British unionism has always ended in tears," he said. "It is far better to look to our own place, to all of the people here, to deal with the people of this island."

Flanked by her 10 newly elected MPs, Mrs Foster confirmed that her party would enter discussions with the Tories to "explore how it may be possible to bring stability to our nation at this time of great challenge".

She hailed her party's historic election victory of securing 36% of the vote.

"Those who want to tear apart the Union that we cherish and benefit from so hugely have been sent a clear and resounding message," she said. "In the days and weeks ahead, it is that Union that will be to the forefront of our minds. The Union is our guiding star.

"I make no apology for saying that the DUP will always strive for the best deal for Northern Ireland and its people. But equally, we want the best for all of the United Kingdom."

Ms Foster described the uncertainty facing the UK, following the recent terror attacks, the close run election and Brexit negotiations looming.

Ahead of the talks with the Tories, DUP MP Gavin Robinson said any deal wouldn't extend beyond a confidence and supply arrangement from the opposition benches.

The DUP made its position clear in the election campaign that it wanted a Tory government. In a speech cancelled in the wake of the Manchester terror attack, Mrs Foster planned to describe Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as "beyond the political pale" because of his past support for republicans.

Sinn Fein has insisted that it won't change its abstentionist policy even to help Mr Corbyn in the Commons.

Mr Adams said: "Sinn Fein respects the mandate we have received and our electorate who voted in such huge numbers," he said. "Nationalists and republicans have turned their back on Westminster and accept that the centre of political gravity is now on the island of Ireland."

He rejected Mrs Foster's assessment that the Union had been strengthened and repeated his call for a border poll.

Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, last night said she had received assurances from Mrs May over gay rights should the Tories do a deal with the DUP. In an apparent criticism of the plan, Ms Davidson released a speech on social media which she had made in favour of marriage equality in Belfast.

"As a Protestant Unionist about to marry an Irish Catholic, here's the Amnesty Pride lecture I gave in Belfast," she tweeted.

Ms Davidson told the BBC: "I was fairly straightforward with her (Mrs May) and I told her that there were a number of things that count to me more than the party. One of them is country, one of the others is LGBTI rights.

"I asked for a categoric assurance that if any deal or scoping deal was done with the DUP there would be absolutely no rescission (repeal) of LGBTI rights in the rest of the UK, and that we would use any influence that we had to advance LGBTI rights in Northern Ireland.

"It's an issue very close to my heart and one that I wanted categoric assurances from the prime minister on, and I received (them)."

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