Northern Ireland

DUP's Sir Jeffrey Donaldson plays down reports of £2bn request to Tories

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Image caption DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson described the £2bn figure as "wild speculation" but did say the DUP wanted help with infrastructure spending

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has played down reports it is seeking £2bn in extra funding for Northern Ireland in return for supporting the Tories.

Earlier, sources told the BBC the DUP wanted £1bn invested in Northern Ireland's health service and a similar figure for infrastructure projects.

However, DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has described the figures as "wild speculation" and "wide of the mark".

But he did say the DUP wanted Treasury "help" with public spending priorities.

'Dinosaurs'

"We're talking to the the Treasury and to the government about, yes, investing in our infrastructure in Northern Ireland, because we've lagged behind the rest of the UK, not least due to 30 years of violence," he told BBC Newsline.

In a separate exchange in the House of Commons, he stepped in to defend the DUP after they were branded "dinosaurs".

Sir Jeffrey was indignant when the co-leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, used the insult in the House of Commons.

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Media caption Sir Jeffrey complained after Caroline Lucas called the DUP "dinosaurs"

Ms Lucas suggested that the lack of bills concerned with the environment in the government's legislative program was influenced by the DUP.

Objecting to her remarks, Sir Jeffrey invited Ms Lucas to read his party's manifesto.

He also asked the Commons Speaker to rule on whether Ms Lucas had used "unparliamentary" language, but his complaint was dismissed.

Sir Jeffrey, the MP for Lagan Valley, is a senior negotiator in the DUP's ongoing discussions with the Conservative Party.

Prime Minister Theresa May is seeking the support of the DUP's 10 MPs after losing her majority in the general election.

'Making progress'

Both sides have been locked in talks for 11 days, but to date they have not confirmed a deal to prop up a Conservative minority government.

On Tuesday, a senior DUP source said the party could not be "taken for granted" and urged the Conservatives to give a "greater focus" to their negotiations.

But on Wednesday, Sir Jeffrey told the BBC his party is "confident" that it can agree a confidence and supply arrangement with the Tories before Parliament votes next week on the measures outlined in the Queen's Speech.

He said the talks were "making progress".

He confirmed that as well as DUP requests for infrastructure spending, a reduction in Northern Ireland's rate of corporation tax, VAT on tourism and air passenger duty have all formed part of the negotiations.

Sir Jeffrey said giving Stormont control to set its own rate of corporation tax could give Northern Ireland "a leading edge in attracting investment".

He described how during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, public funding had been diverted into "security apparatus rather than our roads and our bridges and other elements of our infrastructure - our hospital, our schools".

"We're looking at health and education as well," he said.

"These are priorities for us, in terms of government spending, and we want some help from the Treasury."

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