The DUP in the North West is in buoyant mood after its best ever election on Thursday but representatives were yesterday keeping their powder dry in terms of what a proposed deal with Theresa May’s incoming minority Tory government might contain.
The party looks set to enjoy unprecedented influence in Downing Street thanks to a putative ‘confidence and supply’ agreement, which on Tuesday, was still in negotiation with the Conservatives.
Both East Derry MP Gregory Campbell, who was returned with a huge 48.1 per cent (19,723) share of the vote - up 5.9 percent on 2015 - and the unsuccessful Foyle candidate Gary Middleton, who also managed to increase his party’s tally by 4.2 per cent to 16.1 per cent (7,398) in a predominantly nationalist constituency, said they were humbled at the support they received from their local electorates.
However, with nothing yet agreed in terms of a deal that would see the DUP support a Conservative minority government by voting through money bills and confidence motions over the course of the new parliament, both remained tight-lipped over the precise details of a pact.
Mr. Campbell said: “At this stage it is not possible to go into detail regarding what we will be seeking to achieve through these discussions, suffice to say that we intend to use our influence and votes for the greater good and stability of the United Kingdom and in particular for Northern Ireland.
“I’m a unionist and I want the United Kingdom to prosper together. Government doesn’t create jobs but it creates the conditions to allow employers to grow. The DUP’s manifesto set our policy roadmap for improving the economic conditions in Northern Ireland. I will work to deliver those commitments. I don’t want more 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.”
Not since Enoch Powell and Jim Molyneaux’s United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) has an Irish party enjoyed such sway in Downing Street.
The UUUC successfully managed to get Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan to increase the number of seats in the North from 12 to 18.
Mr. Middleton said the DUP will also be seeking to use its new leverage in the interests of the whole of the North.
“It’s a very unique position that we won’t be taking lightly but as Arlene has already stated, the arrangement will be in the interests of the whole of Northern Ireland and the whole of the UK as well. I think we need to ensure that Northern Ireland’s voice is heard at the top table.”
The Foyle MLA has also played down criticism of the DUP’s positions on gay marriage, climate change and abortion, as well as claims that the party is homophobic, a charge it has always denied.
Mr. Middleton said he welcomed the interest from across the Channel
“Any deal with the Conservative Party will not centre on the redefinition of marriage or changes to the abortion laws. It will be more along the lines of budgets, infrastructure and capital projects. I do feel that a lot of the media on the mainland have been unfair to the party. Probably a lot of that is down to the fact that they had no great interest in the DUP, or Northern Ireland for that matter, prior to the election. I think now that the spotlight is on, people are starting to pay more attention to Northern Ireland. I think there’s a lesson to be learned in all of this in future Westminster elections. There needs to be a closer emphasis on Northern Ireland and the part our MPs have to play as well.”