DUP surge gives it ‘stronger hand in talks with Sinn Fein’

The DUP's candidate for Lagan Valley Jeffrey Donaldson pictured at the election count at the Eikon Exhibition Centre, Sprucefield
The DUP's candidate for Lagan Valley Jeffrey Donaldson pictured at the election count at the Eikon Exhibition Centre, Sprucefield

The leap in the DUP’s fortunes in the general election means the party can enter negotiations over restoring power-sharing to Stormont with a stronger hand.

That was the view from leading member Jeffrey Donaldson, who is now set to retake his seat in the Commons as part of a 10-strong DUP team, with the party having held all its existing eight seats and snatched extra ones off the SDLP and UUP.

If Sinn Fein fails to agree to form a joint government now in Northern Ireland, the republican party faces the prospect of direct rule from Westminster – where the DUP is now in “a very influential position” said Mr Donaldson.

Meanwhile, the results are a catastrophe for the UUP, which now has no MPs at all, after having already been left dented by a poor showing at the ballot box in the March Assembly elections.

However, Ulster Unionists Danny Kinahan (who has just lost his seat as an MP along with Tom Elliott) and Doug Beattie MLA (recently touted as a possible UUP leader) both said they still believe in the need for a liberal-leaning unionist party despite the now-total dominance of the DUP at Westminster.

According to analysis by the BBC, the DUP took 36% of the entire vote in the Province – a jump of over 10% – compared to 10.3% held by the UUP.

The talks process around resurrecting the Province’s devolved government had been put on hold while Theresa May’s snap election was held, but is expected to resume next week.

Mr Donaldson, who is to take his seat as MP for Lagan Valley for a fourth time as a DUP man (having previously held it for the UUP), told the News Letter: “Apart from Lady Hermon, we will be the sole voice for Northern Ireland in the House of Commons.”

Lady Sylvia Hermon will continue to sit as an independent unionist, while all other seats are now held by Sinn Fein – which will not sit at all, due to its abstentionist policy.

Mr Donaldson added: “It’s clear that the DUP has a huge mandate. We also recognise that Sinn Fein has a strong mandate.

“And I think the challenge is to work for the restoration of the political institutions...

“The challenge that we lay down to Sinn Fein is whether they’re up for forming the government, or are we going to return to direct rule.

“And if we do return to direct rule, then the DUP is going to be in a very influential position, having taken its seats at Westminster whereas of course Sinn Fein are going to be sidelined.”

As to what the DUP might press for under direct rule, he said important issues for the party include Brexit, maintaining the Union, and countering the terrorist threat.

He added: “I think unionism has bounced back from the Assembly elections.

“I believe this has immeasurably strengthened our [the DUP’s] hand at Stormont and at Westminster.

“It is evident now that the DUP speaks for unionism, and Sinn Fein need to respect our mandate and need to recognise that this mandate is partly about restoring the political institutions in Northern Ireland, as well as getting the best deal from Brexit.”