DUP looks to Westminster influence

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The Democratic Unionists are this morning wondering if the post-election shakedown will hand them added influence at Westminster after a Northern Ireland poll that produced a couple of surprises.

While the DUP turns its sights to the national picture and whether David Cameron will come calling for support, one of its rival parties at Stormont - the Ulster Unionists - were hailing a renaissance after securing two Westminster seats against the odds.

UUP candidates Danny Kinahan and Tom Elliott won in South Antrim and Fermanagh and South Tyrone respectively to herald the party’s return to parliament after a period without any representation.

While Mr Kinahan ousted Democratic Unionist veteran Willie McCrea, the DUP found consolation with a much-craved triumph in East Belfast, where former city mayor Gavin Robinson recaptured the seat his party lost to Alliance’s Naomi Long in 2010.

Mr Elliott beat 14-year Sinn Fein incumbent Michelle Gildernew in a seat that is more often than not a knife-edge battle.

With the rest of the results going as expected, the DUP emerged from the election as it went in - with eight of Northern Ireland’s 18 seats.

Sinn Fein, suffering a rare loss of a Westminster seat, was down one to four, the SDLP retained its three seats, the UUP captured two and independent Sylvia Hermon comfortably retained her North Down seat.

Mrs Long’s defeat left the Alliance Party without representation at Westminster.

DUP leader Peter Robinson urged “perspective” on the level of influence the DUP could wield with only eight seats.

But he said he would be asking the government for help to achieve 45 manifesto goals to help generate an economic recovery in Northern Ireland.

“We have to take into account the vote of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole and remember that even on our best day we are going back with eight seats out of a parliament of 650,” he said.

“So we have some perspective on the role we can play in those circumstances but we want to be a responsible party. We want to ensure that we do what is best for the United Kingdom as a whole and Northern Ireland in particular.”

He added: “We are looking for them (the next government) to help us realise our vision for Northern Ireland, which of course is to see our economy recovery, seeing it rebalanced to have continuation of stability and peace in Northern Ireland and I want to see which, if not all, of those 45 proposals the UK government can help us to realise.”

With Sinn Fein insisting its century-old Westminster abstentionist policy will remain, the DUP claims it is best placed to exert influence in any hung parliament.

The SDLP is traditionally aligned with Labour, so it would only ever be expected to support Ed Miliband if requested.

Sinn Fein Assembly member Gerry Kelly, who lost out to DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds in north Belfast, said his party would oppose any further “Tory cuts”.

“We will be going into further negotiations against the Tory cuts and I hope that we will get the support not only of Sinn Fein voters but of all, especially working class people,” he said.