DUP leader Arlene Foster and DUP deputy leader Nigel DoddsImage copyright Charles McQuillan
Image caption The DUP had a good night in Northern Ireland, securing two more MPs.

The Democratic Unionists look set to be the powerbrokers in an election that intended to bring stability but has ended in a hung Parliament.

Theresa May has said she will form a government with the support of the DUP, though it is not clear what kind of arrangement this will be.

Despite party leader Arlene Foster warning it would be difficult for the prime minister to stay in No 10, discussions are certainly going on behind the scenes.

The party has moved on to the political centre stage but most people will be in the dark about what it stands for.

The DUP website crashed on Friday morning after a surge of interest, and DUP was also one of the most searched terms on Google.

Basically, they are pro-union (not Europe but UK), pro-Brexit and socially conservative.

The party, which returned 10 MPs to Westminster, has garnered a bit of a reputation for its strong and controversial views.

It opposes same-sex marriage and is anti-abortion – abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, except in specific medical cases.

Image copyright @jonsnowC4
Image caption Broadcaster Jon Snow makes his feelings about the deal known on Twitter
Image copyright @paul_johnson
Image caption Paul Johnson is deputy editor of the Guardian – the DUP’s controversial views are gaining a lot of attention everywhere, not just in the left-leaning press

DUP East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, a devout climate change denier, was once Northern Ireland’s environment minister.

Mervyn Storey, the party’s former education spokesman, once called for creationism – the belief that human life did not evolve over millions of years but was created by God – to be taught alongside evolution in science classes.

He has also objected to an exhibition on evolution in the Ulster Museum and signs at the Giant’s Causeway in his North Antrim constituency.

Sir Elton John

Then there’s the party’s historical links to loyalist paramilitaries.

During this general election campaign, the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly received the endorsement of the three biggest loyalist paramilitary organisations.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionThe DUP: Partners in government

Although the DUP said it did not accept their support, in her acceptance speech, Mrs Little-Pengelly thanked those who came out to vote for her, singling out several loyalist working class areas in Belfast.

In December, the DUP’s Trevor Clarke was criticised by Sir Elton John after the politician admitted he did not know heterosexual people could contract HIV until a charity explained the facts to him.

Image caption A new frontier? The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

The DUP was a wholehearted supporter of Brexit and got heavily involved in the Leave campaign.

After Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland becomes an EU frontier and the DUP is not in favour of a so-called hard border. This means no checkpoints or intrusive enforcement.

So no hard border but in the round, the party’s vision of Brexit is a fairly hard one – it was the most Eurosceptic party in the UK before the ascent of UKIP.

The party also wants to leave the EU customs union – their manifesto says there should be “progress on new free trade deals with the rest of the world” – and end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, ensuring that in future British law is supreme.

One red line is the idea of Northern Ireland being granted some sort of “special status” when Brexit comes to pass – the DUP will not stand for any arrangement that physically sets the region apart from anywhere else in the UK.

Its 2017 manifesto set out its position on Brexit and other issues, including:

  • Further increases to the personal tax allowance – similar to Conservative Party policy
  • Continued rises in the national living wage – similar
  • Renew Trident – similar
  • Revisit terrorism laws – similar
  • Abolish air passenger duty – different from the Conservatives
  • Cut VAT for tourism businesses – different
  • Call for “triple lock” on pensions – different

Its key slogan during the campaign turned out to be rather prescient: “A vote for the DUP team is a vote to send ‘Team Northern Ireland’ to Westminster. It is a team that has real influence”.

What part would the DUP play in a Tory minority government?

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Theresa May literally bumped into Arlene Foster at an agricultural show while the PM was on the campaign trail in Northern Ireland

After a tumultuous night for the Conservatives, Prime Minister Theresa May has lost her majority in the House of Commons, and the mandate she was expecting from the British people.

But with more seats than any other party, she has the first opportunity to form a government, but she needs to have an overall majority of 326 MPs to get legislation past the House of Commons.

The DUP plays a key role in this as their increased Northern Ireland majority of 10 seats could get Mrs May’s Queen’s Speech through parliament.

Ahead of the election, Northern Ireland’s largest party made clear its preference was for a Conservative rather than Labour government.

The DUP’s most senior MPs, including its Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, have been consistently critical of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, particularly for his past links with Sinn Féin and his stance on security issues.

Hardline unionism

The DUP has evolved from being a party of protest into a party of power.

For decades it was led by its founder Rev Ian Paisley, a man who embodied hardline unionism.

Image caption The Democratic Unionist Party moved from a hard-line fringe unionist party in the 1970s, led by Ian Paisley, to Northern Ireland’s biggest party

During the Northern Ireland peace process, the party withdrew from talks as a protest against Sinn Féin and the republican movement being involved in the peace process.

But over the years relations thawed and the DUP became a party of government.

In 2007, Mr Paisley became first minister in Stormont – Northern Ireland’s seat of government – with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness acting as deputy first minister.

Mr Paisley got on so well with the former IRA commander that they were nicknamed the “chuckle brothers”.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ian Paisley became unlikely friends with former IRA commander and Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness

The party remained electorally dominant under its next leader Peter Robinson, but relations between nationalists and unionists in the country’s fragile power-sharing executive began to cool.

After Mr Robinson lost his Westminster seat in the 2010 general election, Mrs Foster took over as party leader in December 2015, and first minister in 2016.

Her leadership has been sullied by controversy over the Renewable Heat Incentive Deal, which saw the power-sharing executive collapse in 2017, causing a snap election in Stormont.

After Sinn Féin made significant gains in that election, the DUP based its Westminster campaign around a call to defend the union – saying unionists had to turn out to rebut republican demands for a referendum on Irish unity.

Northern Ireland is still without a government itself and the DUP will now find its politicians sitting at two negotiating tables when talks to restore power-sharing resume.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here