DUP deal with Tories 'must deliver tangible benefits for Northern Ireland'
The Democratic Unionists will only strike a parliamentary deal with the Conservative Party if it delivers tangible benefits for Northern Ireland in terms of jobs and investment in health and education, a senior member has insisted.
Former Stormont minister Simon Hamilton said any arrangement to support a minority Tory government at Westminster had to be "absolutely right" for the region.
He said the influence of the DUP on Theresa May's party was already visible in the Queen's Speech, indicating the commitment to deliver the Military Covenant "across the UK" was a nod to his party's long-standing demand for its measures to be fully rolled out in Northern Ireland.
Earlier, DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson suggested the omission from the same speech of Conservative manifesto pledges to end the triple lock for pensioners and means testing for the winter fuel allowance was also evidence of the party's sway.
Amid reports the talks between the DUP and Tories stalled earlier in the week, Mr Hamilton said the two sides had been engaging well "over the last 24 hours".
"We will continue until we can get something that works for the people of Northern Ireland, delivers on what we need for Northern Ireland and also importantly delivers stability for the whole nation at this time of great challenge," he said.
He added: "In many respects that deal will benefit the people of Northern Ireland, it will help to deliver here in getting devolution up and running again, will help to deliver for people in Northern Ireland jobs and investment in terms of education, in terms of health."
Mr Hamilton continued: " I think you will see yesterday from the Queen's speech the influence of the DUP already being seen within that."
Asked if the line on the Military Covenant was evidence of that influence, the ex-economy minister said: "We make no apology and are unashamedly in support of wanting to see the Military Covenant rolled out and delivering for service personnel right across the United Kingdom.
"Service personnel and veterans over here haven't benefited from the full implementation of the Military Covenant and we will take every opportunity, whether that be in London or here in Belfast and Northern Ireland, to deliver the Military Covenant for all of veterans and service personnel."
While on the statute, the covenant, which defines the state's obligations to whose in the armed forces and affords them priority in terms of certain public services, needs the sign-off of the Stormont Executive to be fully rolled out in the region.
Asked about the issue at Stormont on Thursday, Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy said service provision in the region had to be administered on the basis of equality.
"The services that are provided in this part of the world are done so on the basis of equality, the basis of objective need and people's access to those services," he said.
Sir Jeffrey said the chances of reaching a deal with the Conservatives were "very good".
However, he denied reports the DUP was seeking £1 billion for the health service with a further £1 billion of infrastructure.
He indicated the faltering talks with the Tories had improved after Theresa May became more personally involved in the discussions, which had been led by the Government Chief Whip Gavin Williamson.
"I think the Prime Minister is moving this process forward," he said.
"She is engaged now. We welcome that. I think that since that has happened we have been moving forward."
Chancellor Philip Hammond also expressed confidence that an agreement would be reached between the two parties.
"We don't agree on everything, but on the big issues about the Union, about the need to grow our economy and to spread the benefits of that growth across all corners of the United Kingdom, on the need to be strong on defence and counter-terrorism - on all of these areas we agree with the Democratic Unionist Party and I am confident that we will be able to come to an arrangement with them to support the Government in the key areas of its programme," he told the Today programme.
Cabinet Minister David Gauke made a joke at the expense of the DUP when he touched on concern among some Tories about becoming linked to the party because of its attitude to LGBT rights.
Referring to when he took over the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Mr Gauke said: "I thought I would do a little research into what people were saying about DWP, and I had a look and googled it, and I was a little surprised by what I saw - hugely expensive, difficult customers, very socially conservative, I realised that actually that was the DUP.
"DWP? DUP? They are not quite homophones."