DUP leader: Union will be our guiding star in forging deal
Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster has pledged to work in the interests of the entire United Kingdom as she expressed willingness to help Theresa May form a government.
The former Stormont first minister, who led her party to 10 seats in the Westminster election, said the DUP would strive for the best deal, not only for Northern Ireland but for the UK as a whole.
While Mrs Foster vowed to bring stability to Westminster, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams poured scorn on the anticipated confidence and supply deal between the Conservatives and DUP.
"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, this part of the island as one community."
Flanked by her 10 MPs, Mrs Foster confirmed the 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".
Mrs Foster described her party's resounding victory in Northern Ireland as "truly historic".
The Democratic Unionists have emerged from the election in the enviable position of being king makers at Westminster.
"Yesterday also represented a great result for the Union," said Mrs Foster.
"Not just here in Northern Ireland but right across our United Kingdom.
"Those who want to tear apart the Union that we cherish and benefit from so hugely have been sent a clear and resounding message."
"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.
"We may represent Northern Ireland constituencies in the House of Commons but we are as seized of the interests of the Kingdom as a whole as we are for our small province.
"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 on the horizon.
She added: "Our United Kingdom - and indeed our very way of life - are under threat from extremists."
Ahead of the talks with Conservatives, a senior DUP member said any deal would not extend beyond a confidence and supply arrangement.
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said his party was in a "fantastic position to deliver for Northern Ireland".
Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that she will work with "friends and allies" in the DUP to enable her to lead a government.
Before the 2015 election, with the pollsters predicting a hung parliament, the DUP ruled out a potential formal coalition with the Conservatives, instead indicating its support would be offered in a confidence and supply arrangement from the opposition benches.
Mr Robinson said: "We have essentially got the result we were campaigning for two years ago.
"It didn't materialise then but we campaigned on the basis of a hung parliament two years ago.
"I think that puts us in a fantastic position to deliver for Northern Ireland."
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 Irish republicans.
The DUP and Sinn Fein dealt a series of devastating blows to their rivals in Northern Ireland to emerge from the General Election stronger than ever.
The two main parties advanced as the Ulster Unionists and SDLP were wiped off the Westminster map.
Sinn Fein's seven MPs did not factor as part of calculations to form a government because the republican party refuses to take its seats in Westminster.
Mr Adams, who insisted the abstentionist policy would not change, hailed what he described as an "historic result" for his party.
"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 referendum on Irish unity.
"What value is the Union if we have poverty, division, deficiencies in our education system and health system and homelessness?" Mr Adams asked.
He called on the DUP and Irish government to focus on restoring devolution to crisis-hit Stormont.
"Theresa May sought a mandate for Brexit, austerity and the erosion of human rights," Mr Adams added.
"She got her comeuppance."