- Charles McQuillan / Stringer
LONDON – The Northern Ireland-based Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has emerged as an unlikely kingmaker and coalition partner with the Conservatives after this year’s general election returned a hung parliament.
It is the biggest party in Northern Ireland, with 26 seats in the national assembly, and the fifth biggest in the UK, with 10 MPs and a 1.5% share of the vote.
“This is perfect territory for the DUP obviously because if the Conservatives are just short of an overall majority, it puts us in a very, very strong negotiating position and it is one we would take up with relish,” DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson told BBC, according to a report in the Irish Times.
The group looks set to become one of the most influential forces in British politics when Prime Minister Theresa May goes to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen for permission to form a coalition government, but they are little known in the rest of the UK.
Here is what you need to know about the DUP.
The pro-Brexit, pro-Unionist party had a good election, seeing its overall vote rise by 10% to 292,316 votes.
The party is very much right-of-centre and socially conservative, having opposed gay rights in the past, as well as being idealogically one of the closest major political parties to Theresa May’s brand of Conservativism at the moment.
The DUP had a seven-point manifesto for the election, here are the main points:
1. More executive power devolved to Northern Ireland. “If we are to deal with the challenges and seize the opportunities that leaving the European Union presents then we need our own local Ministers lobbying London and Brussels.”
2. Increase in the National Living Wage and special protection for pensions. “An improving economy must not just be for the benefit of big companies or confined to London and the South East.”
3. Boost exports with a new trade board, and invest in tourism. “While some seek to talk Northern Ireland down we see huge potential in our economy.”
4. Reduction in the numbers of councils and the cost of public administration. “The DUP will fight hard at Westminster for a Budget settlement that allows for real terms increases in health and education spending over the next parliamentary term and will prioritise these areas in future Northern Ireland Budgets.”
5. Support for NATO against a “belligerent” Russia. “The DUP does not believe that the present defence arrangements for the United Kingdom are adequate enough to cope with the emerging threats in the 21st Century.”
6. A “frictionless” border with the Republic of Ireland after Brexit. “The deafness of the EU institutions to change in those negotiations meant that this process did not deliver the fundamental reform the EU required. Therefore, with no reasonable alternative available, the DUP chose to maintain its stance and advocate for a leave vote.”
7. Greater promotion of “Britishness” with flags and an Armed Forces Day. “For significant periods of recent history, there has been a consistent attempt to reduce the display of British symbols.”
The party was founded in 1971 by Ian Paisley, 88, a hardline unionist and firebrand Protestant minister.
Paisley opposed homosexual rights and set up the Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign in 1977, which sought to stop Northern Ireland from being included in a 1967 bill to decriminalise homosexuality. His campaign failed after a ruling in the European Court of Human Rights in the early 1908s.
Paisley was a staunch anti-Catholic, interrupting a speech by Pope John Paul II in the European Parliament to denounce him as the anti-Christ in 1988. He was anti-Europe and said that seat number 666 in the European Parliament building was reserved for the devil.
The party opposed the Northern Ireland peace process in the 1990s and withdrew from the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 in protest against the participation of Sinn Féin. Nine years later, in 2007, Paisley agreed to a power-sharing agreement with Sinn Féin, to became First Minister of Northern Ireland. He stepped down a year later and left politics in 2011.
The DUP’s current leader is Arlene Foster, 46, who has been active in politics since 2003, when she was elected to Northern Ireland’s national assembly for the first time.
In January this year, the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed following a scandal over a heating scheme, set up by Foster, that cost the government hundreds of millions of pounds. Martin McGuinness resigned in protest after Foster refused to step down, causing snap elections for a new Deputy First Minister.