By Amanda Ferguson
BELFAST Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party is seeking more funding for the province and concessions for former British soldiers in exchange for supporting British Prime Minister Theresa May, a source close to the party said on Saturday. May's Conservatives failed to secure an absolute majority in a parliamentary election on Thursday and need the DUP's 10 seats to be sure of being able to form a government.A senior Conservative lawmaker was in Belfast on Saturday for talks with the DUP, a spokeswoman for May's office said.The DUP has refused to give details in public of what concessions it might seek, and did not respond to a request for comment. The source said the DUP was likely to seek a role in Brexit negotiations but was likely to steer clear of social issues such as abortion and gay rights, where it disagrees with Conservative Party positions.
It was also likely to seek to include Northern Ireland in the "Military Covenant", which ensures that veterans of the British armed forces receive priority medical treatment in the remainder of the United Kingdom.Such a move would be strongly opposed by the Irish nationalists of Sinn Fein who share power in Belfast under a 1998 peace agreement that ended three decades of violence between nationalists and pro-British loyalists.It may also ask for measures to protect British soldiers accused of historical crimes related to the conflict, in which 3,600 people were killed.
Concessions on such issues would seriously damage efforts by the DUP to secure a deal with Sinn Fein to restore Northern Ireland's devolved government, which collapsed in January.Failure in the talks could lead to a return to direct rule from London for the first time in a decade, and fuel tensions that have in the recent past led to street violence and attacks by dissident nationalists.
Sinn Fein says former nationalist guerrillas and military personnel must be treated equally, and has accused the DUP of attempting to give immunity to former British soldiers accused of torture. The DUP's demands are likely to be similar to a list it published before the 2015 general election, where the Conservatives ultimately secured a majority and did not need DUP support.That list included a demand for a cut in Northern Ireland's corporation tax rate to help it attract foreign investment. It also asked for "constitutional stability for Northern Ireland", an apparent reference to efforts by Irish nationalists to seek a referendum on splitting from the United Kingdom and joining the Irish Republic. (Editing by Conor Humphries and Kevin Liffey)
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Updated Date: Jun 10, 2017 21:47 PM