All ears cocked for whispers from closely-guarded talks

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster

All ears will be cocked this weekend for whispers from closely-guarded talks between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionists.

The question of what the party stands for was in such demand that it hit the top of Google search trends as the fallout from Westminster's hung parliament hit home.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

The DUP are fervent supporters of Brexit and hold a hard-line on some social issues, including refusing to budge on liberalising abortion or allowing gay marriage.

So what comes out of the backroom discussions with the Tories will be telling, both for the ambitions of the next government but also the impact they have on Northern Ireland politics.

Gregory Campbell, DUP MP in East Londonderry, set the ground rules before discussions were even scheduled.

"Where we can get a good deal and they agree with us, we will vote with them. If they attempt to put something in place that is a bad deal for everybody in Northern Ireland we will oppose it. That remains the case," he said.

"Should it be down to one vote, that remains the case. We are not Northern Ireland Conservatives."

Among the key priorities for the unionists will be the vexed issue of the legacy of the Troubles and the idea that army and police veterans who served in Northern Ireland should be protected from prosecution.

Westminster's Defence Committee has already urged a statute of limitations for soldiers on tours since the late 1960s after a number were charged with offences related to the 30-year conflict.

Gay marriage is a complete no-no for the DUP.

DUP leader Arlene Foster herself spoke of the "chill factor" affecting religious groups in Northern Ireland in the wake of the "gay cake" court case.

It ruled that Ashers, a family-owned bakery, discriminated by refusing to make a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan.

Ms Foster also accused the NI Equality Commission, which took the case, of favouring the "metropolitan liberal elite" definition of equality.

Such marriage reform is in the gift of the Stormont Assembly but power-sharing in Belfast has been dogged by stalemate for months.

Relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein broke down over the cash-for-ash controversy where people were essentially making money from the Renewable Heat Incentive by installing special wood pellet boilers - a scheme which DUP ministers oversaw.

A deadline for a deal to reinstate the Executive has been pushed out to the end of the month.

Abortion is another social issue which the DUP will not want to shift on.

The party wants no extension to Northern Ireland's limitations on terminations, which restrict the procedure to when a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.Prime Minister: We will work together with DUP

As it stands, fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest are not grounds for an abortion.

The DUP's position on climate change also raises questions, not least from Friends of the Earth which branded the party a "climate pariah".

Sammy Wilson, the party's East Antrim MP, is a climate change denier who supported US President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement.

The DUP appointed him environment minister in Stormont in 2008.

James Orr, Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland director, said: "Under the DUP leadership Northern Ireland has become a wild west for the environment.

"Theresa May must not allow the DUP to further weaken her already-inadequate manifesto commitments to maintain environmental protections and preserve nature."

If the party were to walk into talks with the Conservatives with a shopping list of demands, the manifesto gives other some key insights.

The DUP wants a new public holiday in Northern Ireland to mark its centenary in 2021 and a cut in or abolition of the TV licence fee, as well as reform of the BBC.

It wants to maintain the common travel area between Ireland and the UK and a new start on the issue of contentious parades.

In terms of households, the party said it wants to see continued rises in the national living wage and personal tax allowances and protection of pensions.

The party also floated the idea of abolishing air passenger duty, it wants to make tourism a £1 billion industry in Northern Ireland, increase health and education spending and create an Ulster-Scots Academy.

Mike Nesbitt, former leader of the Ulster Unionists and one of the DUP's rivals, explained the enviable position now held by the DUP: "It is what every local party in Northern Ireland hopes for, that they hold the balance of power and therefore have some degree of clout."

READ: Prime Minister: We will work together with DUP