Monday 23 October 2017

Unionist talks with Tories 'a tremendous opportunity' for the North, insists Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photo: PA
DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photo: PA

Suzanne Breen

Arlene Foster has said that a deal between the DUP and the Tories offers a "tremendous opportunity" not just for her party but for the whole of Northern Ireland.

The DUP leader flew to London last night and today will hold negotiations with Prime Minister Theresa May at Downing Street about keeping a Tory government in power.

Speaking alongside her party's deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, Mrs Foster pledged to use her newly acquired influence wisely and she defended the DUP's role as kingmakers at Westminster.

"Parliamentarians would like to play as full a role as they possibly can in our national parliament, just as some in Sinn Féin would like to play a role in the Irish parliament.

"I think this is a tremendous opportunity not just for this party but for Northern Ireland in terms of the nation, and we're looking forward to playing our part in that," she said.

The talks between the Tories and the DUP are expected to continue over coming days.

The DUP could insist on several Tory manifesto pledges being watered down or axed completely. First Secretary of State Damian Green said he couldn't "confirm anything" when asked if a deal was still on the cards by Monday. "We know those talks [with the DUP] are going well and also we know that, at this very important time, we want to produce a substantial Queen's Speech," he said.

Meanwhile, Mrs Foster told Sinn Féin leaders that if they were concerned about her party's enhanced influence at Westminster, they should move to restore devolution at Stormont.

"If others decide that they are not coming back into the devolved administration here in Northern Ireland, then those issues will have to be dealt with at Westminster," she said.

"It is really for Sinn Fein to decide where they want those powers to lie."

Mrs Foster and Sinn Féin's Northern leader Michelle O'Neill held their first meeting yesterday since before the general election campaign.

The meeting came as it emerged that the Queen's Speech had been delayed by up to a week. Amid ongoing speculation, DUP MP Gregory Campbell hinted his party's demands could include job creation in the North.

"Government doesn't create jobs but it creates the conditions which allow employers to grow. Our manifesto set out a roadmap for improving economic conditions and I want to deliver on that," the re-elected MP said. "I don't want any more of our young people leaving our shores in search of work.

"Growing our private sector will ultimately reduce our dependence on the Block Grant and give us more money to invest in public services."

Scupper

Sinn Féin has been critical of the proposed DUP-Conservative alliance, saying it could scupper the Stormont talks because Mrs May's party would be beholden to the unionists and unable to chair negotiations from a neutral position.

But Mrs Foster insisted she could see no reason why the talks on a deal with the Tories would put the restoration of a Stormont Executive in greater jeopardy.

If Sinn Féin was concerned about her party's enhanced influence at Westminster it should move to restore devolution at Stormont, she said, because failing to restore a power-sharing administration would mean the return of direct rule.

Irish Independent

Also in this section