Belfast Telegraph

Leaders debate goes ahead without DUP - but here's what Peter Robinson would have said to the nation

By Liam Clarke

The DUP could hold the balance of power at Westminster in just over a month - but a UK-wide audience has missed out on hearing what Northern Ireland's biggest party might demand as kingmakers.

Broadcasters snubbed Peter Robinson for last night's general election TV leaders debate, but the leader of the fourth largest party in the Commons told the Belfast Telegraph he could support either the Conservatives or Labour in the event of a hung parliament.

Had he been invited to participate, the First Minister would have told David Cameron, Ed Miliband and millions viewing that he does not see much difference between what the two political rivals would spend on Northern Ireland. "People often ask whether Labour or Tory would be better for Northern Ireland and who we would back in a hung parliament," he said.

"We have had extensive work carried out on what the two parties have been proposing in relation to the economy.

"In terms of the spending programme for Northern Ireland there is only £10m of a difference. So in terms of resource expenditure there is not much to choose between what the two parties are proposing."

The DUP has published a detailed 'Northern Ireland Plan' which it will discuss with any party seeking their MPs' support after the election. How the Tories and Labour respond to it could tilt the balance in their favour and potentially determine the next government.

"We will look at what part of our vision they are prepared to assist us in implementing and we will judge between them on that basis," said Mr Robinson. "We do not expect either party to deliver every dot and comma of our plan.

"The size of the DUP in the House of Commons compared to the size of the governing party is clear and we don't intend trying to be the tail that wags the dog. I am making that clear."

In last night's ITV debate, seven party leaders took part, including the Greens and Plaid Cymru. These two parties only have four MPs even when combined - just half of the DUP's eight.

Mr Robinson had threatened to take a judicial review but believes the BBC strung things out so that he wouldn't have time to do so before the broadcasts took place.

"We had positioned ourselves to take action against the BBC on the basis of legal advice in that they are a public body," he said. "The other channels are private companies so it becomes much more difficult to have them judicially reviewed."

Mr Robinson said the BBC had told him that there would be national coverage of a Northern Ireland debate, but had yet to receive any details.

A BBC spokesperson said: "BBC Northern Ireland is broadcasting a leaders debate on BBC One NI on Tuesday, May 5 and schedules are currently being looked at with a view to broadcast that debate across the whole of the UK.

"Details will be announced soon."

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