Northern Ireland news

DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson raises hope of deal with Tories but says party is '‘no pushover'

 Jeffery Donaldson of the DUP elected MP for Lagan Valley. Picture from Mal McCann.
Gavin Cordon, Press Association Whitehall Editor

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said the chances of reaching a deal with the Conservatives to prop up Theresa May's minority government are "very good".

The DUP chief whip at Westminster confirmed the party was seeking extra funding for Northern Ireland as part of the agreement.

However, he denied reports it was seeking £1 billion for the health service with a further £1 billion of infrastructure.

"The figures that are being bandied about are way wide of the mark," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"What we are asking for is recognition by the Government that after 30 years of a very violent conflict in Northern Ireland when the capital resources were spent on security - on police stations, fortifications, military establishments - our infrastructure fell well behind the rest of the United Kingdom. So what we are asking for is some help to make up that deficit."

Sir Jeffrey hinted the DUP had already secured concessions, with Conservative manifesto pledges to end the triple lock for pensioners and means testing for the winter fuel allowance being omitted from the Queen's Speech.

"We are interested in a deal that benefits the UK as a whole," he said.

"What we certainly don't want to see is pensioners and the more vulnerable being affected. If what we do benefits people across the United Kingdom then as a unionist party that is something we are proud of."

Asked about the chances of an agreement before next week's Commons vote on the Queen's Speech, Sir Jeffrey said: "I think very good. The sooner the better as far as we are concerned."

Sir Jeffrey's comments came after DUP sources accused the Conservatives of taking the party for granted in the negotiations.

He indicated that the situation had improved after Mrs 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. She is engaged now. We welcome that. I think that since that has happened we have been moving forward," he said.

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."

Addressing a gathering of journalists at Westminster, Mr Gauke joked: "In terms of Northern Ireland, we are in discussions with the DUP as you well know - at least we were when I came in here."

The Work and Pensions Secretary added: "As far as I am concerned, it is important that we obtain some stability within our system."

 

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