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DUP 'may play key Westminster role'

Published 21/04/2015

Peter Robinson sits behind the wheel of a London Routemaster bus at the launch of the Democratic Unionist Party election manifesto at Wrightbus in Antrim. Pic Charles McQuillan/Getty
Peter Robinson sits behind the wheel of a London Routemaster bus at the launch of the Democratic Unionist Party election manifesto at Wrightbus in Antrim. Pic Charles McQuillan/Getty
Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Nigel Dodds during the party's General Election manifesto launch in Antrim

The DUP has said it may play a pivotal role in agreeing the next government at Westminster.

Northern Ireland's largest party could win eight to 10 seats and has warned against cuts to front line services or rushing to eliminate the budget deficit.

It has ruled out taking part in a formal coalition and said it was open to a deal with Labour or the Conservatives, claiming the difference between them on Northern Ireland spending plans was only £1 million.

Real increases in health and education spending over the next five years and abolition of the so-called bedroom tax on benefits recipients and air passenger duty were among concessions sought from Westminster outlined at the manifesto launch in Antrim on Tuesday.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: "Everyone in this room and far beyond will know just how pivotal a role we may have after this election.

"With the polls as they have been for months and the SNP having marginalised their influence it is very likely that DUP MPs will have a crucial role in the next Parliament.

"There is a real opportunity to get what we need to make life better for Northern Ireland's hard working people."

The party is seeking safeguarded access from Northern Ireland to London airports and a feasibility study into a tunnel or enclosed bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

It outlined plans to make Northern Ireland an "economic powerhouse", including the devolution from London to Belfast of the power to reduce corporation tax to attract more foreign direct investment.

Leader Peter Robinson said: "After the election we are prepared to support either the Conservative Party or the Labour Party if the circumstances are right; or for that matter neither if the circumstances are not right.

Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Nigel Dodds during the party's General Election manifesto launch in Antrim
Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Nigel Dodds during the party's General Election manifesto launch in Antrim

"The price for DUP support in the new parliament cannot simply be summarised and dismissed as more money for Northern Ireland.

"I believe that delivery of the Northern Ireland Plan can help redefine our place within the United Kingdom.

"So whilst we could well play a pivotal role in the next Parliament we have a sense of perspective about our size and our capacity to dictate policy at a national level.

"While our influence in the national context will be limited by our size and the wider post-election arithmetic we would contend that whatever the final Commons headcount we could be in a key position to bring real and substantial change to Northern Ireland."

The DUP was once a party of protest, overshadowed by the Official Unionists in the polls, its primary concern preventing any accommodation with the IRA or Sinn Fein which it saw little difference in.

Since the ceasefires of 1994 the fundamentalist unionist party has outstripped the Ulster Unionists to become the largest member of the powersharing Executive at Stormont, governing alongside Sinn Fein, and its focus has turned increasingly to economic matters like control over corporation tax imposed on businesses.

It launched its manifesto at the factory of one of Northern Ireland's most successful companies, Wrightbus, which has exported its distinctive double deckers around the world including London.

Seeking r eal increases in health and education spending over the next five years and the protection of other key public services were among the DUP's promises.

Mr Dodds said: "In our manifesto we make it clear we want to see the budget deficit eliminated.

"However, we also recognise that a rush to reduce and eliminate the deficit could have an impact on growth.

"After five years of sustained and deep cuts, the DUP believes that any further significant reductions to frontline services in areas that affect Barnett consequentials would be harmful."

The Barnett formula is the mechanism of calculating how much money is transferred from London to Belfast to pay for public services.

The Conservatives have pledged to continue with UK cuts for the first two years of the next parliament if re-elected.

Mr Robinson said the difference between Labour and the Conservatives' spending plans for Northern Ireland was only £1 million out of a £10 billion budget.

He said the DUP would not be part of the next Government but had the opportunity to make a real impact.

"This is a once in a life-time opportunity for Northern Ireland."

The DUP was founded by the Rev Ian Paisley and has staunchly unionist roots. It is seeking protection for the official display of the Union flag. Rioting erupted after Belfast City Council voted to restrict its flying from City Hall some years ago.

The party is also looking for concessions on loyal order parades, which have been another sectarian flashpoint, including the abolition of the Parades Commission which adjudicates on contentious marches.

But the DUP's decision to launch its manifesto at the Antrim factory of Wrightbus, the noise of drills in the background, was a statement of focus on the economy.

The party is in dispute with Sinn Fein over welfare reform, which is a key element of a deal allowing Northern Ireland power to set its own rate of business tax and compete for foreign direct investment with its neighbours in the Republic of Ireland.

Mr Dodds said: "We will assess any welfare proposals on the following tests: Will it incentivise work? What protection does it provide for those most in need? What impact will it have upon the costs of administration?

"Proposals such as taxing disability benefit will fail such tests. The DUP supports the triple lock on the state pension and will oppose plans to means test present universal benefits for pensioners."

The party supports holding a referendum on EU membership and a minimum spending of 2% of GDP on defence.

It also called for a UK-wide ban on new psychoactive substances also known as "legal highs" and a definition of a victim which excluded terrorist perpetrators.

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