Peter Robinson: We need the strongest possible team of MPs to get the best deal
The best way to get a better future for Northern Ireland is to give the DUP the strongest hand to negotiate after May 7, says party leader Peter Robinson
You are only six days and a vote away from putting Northern Ireland centre-stage at Westminster. It can only be achieved by placing the DUP team in the strongest possible negotiating position to get the best deal for Northern Ireland in a hung parliament.
The general election on May 7 offers a real opportunity for Northern Ireland. Almost all polls and pundits agree that there will be a hung parliament with no party able to command a majority in the House of Commons.
That means that the votes of DUP MPs could be crucial in the formation of the next government.
We can use this position to help people in Northern Ireland and do the right thing for the United Kingdom as a whole. With the rise of the SNP in Scotland, it has never been more important that there is a strong unionist presence from Northern Ireland, which can help provide a counterbalance to separatist forces at Westminster.
Now more than ever, it is vital that we are not distracted, or diverted away, from what really matters for Northern Ireland.
This election is too important for protest votes, or divisions over matters of detail and not matters of principle.
That's why I was delighted that we were able to agree the most comprehensive unionist pact with the UUP in decades, which will strengthen unionism and Northern Ireland's place in the UK.
The strongest hand for Northern Ireland in negotiations after the election is to return the maximum number of DUP MPs.
The truth is that, when it comes to Northern Ireland MPs at Westminster, only the DUP are likely to matter.
Sinn Fein don't take their seats, the SDLP are already committed to supporting the Labour Party and the other parties are too small to matter.
It will be the final electoral arithmetic that will dictate the influence that we will have in the new parliament, but the more votes and seats we have, the greater our influence will be.
While the Conservative and Labour parties have both ruled out deals with some other parties standing for election across the UK, neither have said that they could not do business with the DUP.
They know that our MPs could make the difference between being able to form a government on the one hand, or having to rely on those pledged to tear the UK apart on the other.
With around a 30th of the MPs of the largest party in the next parliament, we won't be able to achieve everything that we want, but if our votes are critical to the next government we have a strong hand to play.
With a strong DUP, Northern Ireland can get the best deal. Last month, we published the Northern Ireland Plan, which sets out our agenda for negotiations after the election.
We are not seeking places in the Cabinet, but instead we are running in this election to get the best deal for Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole.
The price for DUP support is not simply more money for Northern Ireland. Instead, I believe delivery of the Northern Ireland Plan can help redefine our place within the United Kingdom.
In our document, we set out our top five priorities - to make Northern Ireland an economic powerhouse, deliver world-class public services for our people, create a society based on fairness and opportunity for everyone, make politics and government work better in Northern Ireland and strengthen the United Kingdom and protect and enhance our British identity.
In these, we have set out 45 issues on which we are seeking support from Westminster in order to help us get a better deal and deliver our vision for Northern Ireland.
As part of our plan, we have goals, such as a budget to deliver real-term increases in health and education over the next five years, affordable corporation tax-reducing powers to help us bring jobs and investment, protection in law for the official display of the Union flag, tougher immigration policy to ensure migrants contribute before they can claim benefits and enhanced support for our armed forces across the UK.
All our proposals can be found at thenorthernirelandplan.com and the vast majority of these issues are capable of commanding support from right across the community in Northern Ireland.
We are not committed to supporting either the Conservative Party or the Labour Party after the election, but are pledged only to do what is best for Northern Ireland.
We have worked well with both of the national parties over the last few years and will do so again.
We have made it clear that we will speak first to whichever party wins the most seats in parliament.
The danger is that split votes and shredded votes could rob us of that once-in-a-generation opportunity.
The reality is this: the more votes the DUP get, the more seats the DUP will win and the greater the influence Northern Ireland will have in parliament.
That's why it is so important that we seize the opportunity that exists and give Northern Ireland the best deal in the next parliament.
There are constituencies that are within our grasp and could be won if unionists unite behind the DUP.
That could potentially transform the arithmetic at Westminster for Northern Ireland.
That's why, even if you are not normally a DUP supporter, I would ask that you lend us your vote to help us get the best deal for hard-working people here.
The best way to get a better future for Northern Ireland is to give the DUP the strongest hand to negotiate after the general election.
That means returning the most DUP MPs possible.
In these times of economic and constitutional instability across the UK, there has never been more at stake and more to gain.