DUP 'could exert significant influence in hung parliament'
The Democratic Unionists could be poised to exert significant influence at Westminster if a hung parliament is returned, a senior party figure has said.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's comments came as Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams made clear there was "no danger whatsoever" of his party ditching its abstentionist policy, even if its seats become crucial in the final shake-down.
Mr Adams also said he could not see Prime Minister Theresa May surviving in her post.
With the DUP and Sinn Fein set to retain their position as the two biggest parties in Northern Ireland, Sir Jeffrey said his party would talk to the Conservatives if they needed help to form a government.
"We need to be very cautious about the exit poll," he said.
"Our experience in 2015 is that the Conservatives got an overall majority despite the predictions of the exit poll and the early results coming in do indicate that the exit poll may not be entirely accurate.
"That said, it does look that if we do have a Conservative majority it may not be a large one and I think that could be territory in which the DUP could exert quite a degree of influence in Westminster.
"We want the best for Northern Ireland in terms of Brexit and in other areas, like how we strengthen the UK and how we tackle some of the economic issues.
"In a hung parliament scenario, assuming Conservatives are the largest party, of course we will talk to them about their desire to form a government.
"We are not going to make a prediction or set out in advance what our negotiating position will be because we don't know at this stage what the scenario is."
Mr Adams dismissed his rival's remarks.
"Jeffrey always plays up their role," he said.
The senior republican added: "There is no danger whatsoever of us taking our seats in the Westminster parliament."
He credited Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with fighting a good campaign despite "media bias".
"I don't know how Theresa May can survive this - that's a matter for her party, of course," he said.
In the first result declared in Northern Ireland, independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon retained her North Down seat despite seeing her majority cut from around 9,000 to 1,200 by the DUP's Alex Easton.
The DUP's Jim Shannon retained his Strangford seat in emphatic fashion, with party colleague Sir Jeffrey Donaldson doing likewise in Lagan Valley.
In Foyle, Sinn Fein was confident of causing a major upset by taking the long-held SDLP seat from Mark Durkan. Such a result would represent a seismic moment in the shifting power dynamic between the nationalist and republican parties.
Elsewhere, DUP leader and former Stormont first minister Arlene Foster expressed her delight at her party's performance.
Asked how many seats she believed the DUP would win overall, she said: "I don't want to predict yet but we are very pleased with the way things are going at present.
"We'll wait to hear what the results actually are but we are very pleased with the way in which people have reacted to the positive message of the campaign - it was about the Union, the importance of the Union, and unionists have really come out in their numbers.
"We have always said, whatever the outcome of the election, we will do what is best for Northern Ireland and best for the constituencies we represent.
"We fought this election on the importance of the Union and I think people really responded to that. It's going to be a good night for the Union."