Ian Knox cartoon showing Theresa May kneeling before the DUP leader Arlene FosterImage copyright Ian Knox/Irish News
Image caption A recurring theme for cartoonists is a weakened Theresa May, beholden to DUP demands

A deal between the Democratic Unionist Party and the Conservatives has been lambasted on social media after Theresa May sought the DUP’s help to stay in power.

DUP social conservatism – including its opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion – has caused concern, including for some within the Conservative Party.

The party’s past and present policies are providing rich pickings for satirists as the British public try to figure out who their government has got into bed with.

But what does the DUP make of it all?

Its leader Arlene Foster recently compared Sinn Féin to a hungry crocodile, but she now finds herself and her party being caricatured as political dinosaurs.

Image copyright The Daily Mash/Twitter

Several memes use Old Testament imagery to mock the party’s strongly-held religious views.

The party’s stance on moral issues is at odds with the law in the rest of the UK where same-sex marriage is legal.

Image copyright @BrianSpanner1/Twitter

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where same-sex marriage is not legal.

Its abortion law also differs from the rest of the UK – terminations are only allowed if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health.

The DUP is the biggest political party in Northern Ireland and wields considerable influence in both debates.

A recurring theme for political cartoonists is a weakened Theresa May, beholden to a higher-than-mighty DUP, as commentators speculate on the price the prime minister, and the Irish peace process, might pay for the party’s support.

Image copyright Morten Morland/The Times

Some meme artists have photo-shopped images of biomass boilers being installed in No 10 – a nod to Mrs Foster’s role in a green energy scandal that toppled her power-sharing coalition with Sinn Féin earlier this year.

Others have used images of men in balaclavas to suggest a more sinister twist to the negotiations, even though the DUP has repeatedly rejected paramilitary endorsements.

One DUP councillor joined in with the fun and games on Facebook, however, sharing mocked-up photos of Number 10 Downing Street bedecked in loyalist and Northern Ireland flags.

“Few changes made in Downing Street today,” wrote Ian Stevenson, who is a former DUP mayor of Ballymoney.

Image copyright Belfast Telegraph
Image caption DUP councillor Ian Stevenson shared these memes on Facebook but later removed them

However, Mr Stevenson said he removed the post “immediately” when it was pointed out to him that the meme included a paramilitary flag, representing the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

“I never noticed that it was a UVF one. I’ve no time for them and I don’t endorse them,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

The DUP was founded in 1971, the year after its 46-year-old leader Arlene Foster was born, but it seems that few outside Northern Ireland were familiar with the party’s policies, until last week’s baptism of fire.

The party’s website crashed last Friday morning, when it became clear the DUP was being courted by Theresa May to play a role in supporting her next government.

Image copyright Jamie Hogan/Twitter
Image caption Edward Percy Moran’s Pilgrims Landing painting was used to poke fun at the DUP

The DUP was also one of the most searched terms on Google that day, as a curious world pondered what those letters stand for.

It wasn’t long before some fairly old – but still very controversial – headlines began to re-surface, offending and outraging modern sensibilities.

Twitter user Jamie Hogan borrowed a famous painting of 17th Century pilgrims to create an irreverent meme of the DUP’s journey to Downing Street.

He told the BBC it was “just a bit of fun”, but said he wasn’t surprised by the backlash against the party.

The Irish steelworker said people in Ireland north and south were long familiar with the DUP’s views, but their policies were bound to cause a reaction when brought to the attention of wider European society.

The vilification of the DUP was by no means confined to the satirists.

At the weekend, the Daily Mirror’s front-page headline slammed the DUP/Tory deal as a “coalition of crackpots”.

Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption A cameraman holds Saturday’s Daily Mirror front page outside No 10 Downing Street

Another UK national newspaper – the Independent – tweeted a link to a video profile of the party, stating: “These are the terrifying views of the party now propping up Theresa May.”

Has it all gone too far?

Although the DUP did use a Stormont veto to block same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, it is not alone in opposing abortion.

The Belfast Telegraph said the party has enjoyed a surge in interest but has fallen victim to a “flood of fake news”.

In an analysis piece for Monday’s paper, former BBC journalist and Stormont spin doctor David Gordon said the DUP had “moved some distance from firebrand pulpit politics towards the centre ground”.

He argued that any deal with the Tories “will not be about gay marriage or abortion – anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t know the modern-day Conservative Party or, indeed, the DUP”.

One of the DUP’s 10 MPs, Gavin Robinson, told the BBC he was “not surprised” by the satirical material appearing online about his party in recent days.

But cartoons aside, Mr Robinson refused to be drawn into further comment.

His DUP colleague, Councillor Ian Stevenson, agreed there had been “some hostile material” posted online over the past few days but he was philosophical about it.

“That’s just the nature of social media,” Mr Stevenson.

“Some of it has also been very positive.”

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