Belfast Telegraph

DUP: Election prize 'never greater'

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson has declared his Democratic Unionists are on the verge of holding the balance of power at Westminster after next year's general election.

In a rally-the-troops speech to his party faithful, the DUP leader said they would be not be seeking places in Cabinet under any deal, but would "sustain" a new UK government in return for concessions to the region.

"The prize at a Westminster election has never been greater," he told his annual conference in Belfast.

"It could be the difference between the DUP holding the balance of power at Westminster and narrowly missing out."

Mr Robinson said every seat will count in the upcoming poll and his party would be demanding "policies and programmes that are in the best interests of Northern Ireland" in return for support.

The DUP currently has eight MPs while independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon also has a seat.

The party will be targeting gains in the strongly unionist East Belfast constituency seat, which Mr Robinson lost last time around to the centrist Alliance Party's Naomi Long, as well as Fermanagh and South Belfast.

Mr Robinson said they are not opposed to entering pacts with other unionists to maximise unionist representation.

"After decades on the fringes and in opposition, this party leads unionism and the administration at Stormont and in six months' time we could be critical to the formation of the national government as well," he said.

Reiterating his support for strong devolution, Mr Robinson said quality of life in Northern Ireland has vastly improved and it has brought in global investment and international events in a way never before contemplated.

However, he warned Westminster spending cuts likely to continue up until at least 2020 means voluntary lay-offs will be needed to slim down the 212,000-strong public sector in the region.

The DUP leader said he expects Stormont will be given the power in a few weeks to set its own corporation tax rate, allowing Northern Ireland to compete with the Irish Republic's 12.5% rate.

"This would revolutionise our economy, create over 50,000 jobs and build prosperity for years to come," he said.

He also repeated calls for a downsizing of political structures in Belfast, with fewer government departments and fewer elected representatives, MLAs.

Northern Ireland's parties are currently locked in talks to resolve legacy issues as part of the peace process.

Mr Robinson said he wanted to see a slimmed-down, lower-cost, smoother-operating, more democratic Stormont at the end of the negotiations.

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