N. Ireland Politics

Peter Robinson says Westminster election prize 'never greater'

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Media captionPeter Robinson said the DUP could play a role in deciding the next Westminster government

DUP leader Peter Robinson has told his party's annual conference "the prize at a Westminster election has never been greater" than in next May's poll.

Mr Robinson said electoral arithmetic could put Northern Ireland unionists at the centre of politics in the whole of the UK.

"This isn't just an opportunity for the DUP, but for unionism as a whole.

"It would be a real tragedy if unionism lost out because of split votes and spoiler candidates," he said.

"We are not seeking to be part of any government coalition, but, with an open mind, we are willing to sustain, in office, a government that offers policies and programmes that are in the best interests of Northern Ireland in particular, and the United Kingdom as a whole."

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Image caption Peter Robinson said unionists must take advantage of the opportunity presented by next year's general election

In his keynote speech to the conference, Mr Robinson also addressed "unionist begrudgers" who believe Northern Ireland would be better off under direct rule.

"Just ask them, do they want to pay water charges, face 10% annual increases in their rate bills and stand helpless while direct rule ministers remove all the other financial advantages that Stormont provides and Westminster does not," the first minister said.

"Remind them that it was not one, but two, direct rule administrations that were prepared to operate the scandalous On The Runs scheme behind our backs."

'Slimmed-down Stormont'

He said it was essential that devolution remained in place, but it had to be able to deliver for the people.

"The present devolved arrangements make decision-taking difficult and slow," he said.

"We need to improve the mechanisms for decision-taking and remove blocking processes in order to allow the assembly the ability to decide issues rather than having them vetoed in the executive.

"At the end of the talks process we want to see a slimmed-down, lower-cost, smoother-operating, delivery-orientated and more democratic Stormont."

Mr Robinson said that in a few weeks' he hoped the government would announce that corporation tax powers would be devolved to Northern Ireland.

"This would revolutionise our economy, create over 50,000 jobs and build prosperity for years to come," he said.

'Toilet paper'

Earlier, Gregory Campbell said the DUP would never agree to an Irish language act at Stormont.

Image caption Gregory Campbell made reference to the 'curry my yoghurt' row

He said his party would treat Sinn Fein's "entire wish list as no more than toilet paper".

Mr Campbell also made reference to the row earlier this month when he began an address to the assembly with: "Curry my yoghurt can coca coalyer", in imitation of the Irish sentence "go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle" which translates as "thank you, Speaker".

On Saturday, Mr Campbell started his speech by saying it was always good to start the day with a healthy breakfast.

He then brought out a tub of yoghurt and said: "So I got some yoghurt today.

"And I'm looking forward to lunch, because they tell me there's some curry there."

The conference opened at a hotel in County Down on Friday.

There were speeches from a series of ministers, including new arrivals Jim Wells and Mervyn Storey.

On Friday night, North Belfast MP Mr Dodds also focussed his remarks on the possibility that the DUP could play an influential role after May's election.

Currently the DUP has eight MPs, with independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon taking the overall unionist tally to nine.

Mr Dodds argued that if unionists made gains in places like Fermanagh, South Belfast and East Belfast that number could rise to 12.

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Image caption Nigel Dodds described the prospect of a hung parliament as a moment of opportunity for Northern Ireland

He said the DUP wanted Northern Ireland's voice to echo through the halls of Westminster and down the corridors of Downing Street.

He mentioned a referendum on EU membership and the full application of the military covenant as priorities, and criticised Prime Minister David Cameron's backing for English-only votes in the House of Commons as a quick fix which amounted to playground politics.

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