A brief history: Who are the DUP?

Theresa May is going to face a massive backlash from supporters and backbenchers alike for doing a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). But who are the DUP and what is their history? There has been a lot of information flying around from all sorts of news outlets and they have been right by and large however, the history they print tends to be bits rather than detail. Because as we know, the history is far more complex.

Firstly, the DUP was founded by Reverend Ian Paisley, during the Troubles in 1971. He led them for 37 years and oversaw many unsavoury aspects of the Troubles, which eventually led to a power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland.

The foundation to mid-90s

The DUP evolved from the Protestant Union Party (PUP) by then leader Desmond Boal and Ian Paisley, the latter was a Protestant fundamentalist with extreme views who also founded the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, heading both for the next 37 years. The DUP opposed the civil rights movement to end discrimination against the Catholic/Irish nationalist minority by the Protestant/unionist government. They were further right and more hard-line than other parties and the formation was arguably through insecurities of the Ulster Protestant working class.

During the Troubles, an agreement was put forward in 1973 to attempt to stop the violence by setting up a new assembly and government in Northern Ireland. But the DUP were adamantly against the agreement and Ian Paisley, along with other paramilitary leaders organised an anti-Agreement strike by unionists that lasted 14 days, bringing Northern Ireland to a standstill. Loyalist paramilitaries got involved and enforced the strike through blockades and intimidation, they also set of four car bombs on the 3rd day in Dublin and Monaghan which killed 33 civilians.

Throughout the 80s the DUP were against talks between Irish PM, Charles Haughey and British PM, Margaret Thatcher. In their bid to oppose the any agreement, Ian Paisley and other DUP members created the Ulster Third Force, a private army to fight the IRA. With Paisley stating that his men were ‘ready’ to be ‘recruited under the crown’ to fight the IRA but if this did not happen, then they had ‘no other choice’ but to ‘destroy the IRA’ themselves. They constantly opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, with several protests by DUP politicians and supporters alike.

DUP politicians, including Ian Paisley, formed the Ulster Resistance Movement (URM) to take direct action against Republicanism and bring down the agreement. Thousands were said to have joined following huge recruitment missions across towns and the following year the URM helped smuggle in a large supply of weapons, sharing them with the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

The UDA released a document in 1994 demanding the repartition of Ireland, with then DUP press officer and future MP talking positively of the document saying, “contemplating what needs to be done to maintain our separate Ulster identity” and it was “valuable return to reality”. The plans were to be implemented after withdrawal of the British Army and areas that were predominantly Catholic would be handed over to republic control and those within the rump state would be “expelled, nullified, or interned”.

The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and power-sharing

Initially the DUP were involved in talks over the GFA however, after Sinn Fein were allowed participate, they withdrew. They opposed the Agreement within the GFA referendum, but 71.1% of the electorate voted in favour thus approving the GFA. Following the GFA, the 1998 Norther Ireland Assembly election saw the DUP become the third largest party and took 2 of the 10 seats in the multi-party power-sharing Executive. However, the DUP’s serving ministers refused to attend meetings of the Executive Committee as protest to Sinn Fein’s involvement.

The Executive collapsed after an alleged spy ring in Stormont, subsequent investigations saw the charges dropped and the individual arrested, Denis Donaldson, was revealed as a double-agent working for MI5, this was confirmed by both Gerry Adams and Donaldson himself. During the start of the noughties, the DUP continued to oppose the GFA and power-sharing until 2007, when they entered an agreement with Sinn Fein for a power-sharing Northern Ireland.

The last 10 years in brief

In 2008, Ian Paisley stepped down as leader and Peter Robinson was elected leader but it wasn’t long before scandal hit Robinson, after it was revealed during the expenses scandal he had claimed £571,939.41 in expenses, with a further £150,000 being paid to family members. The party itself face further questions after deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, was found to have claimed the most out of all the Northern Ireland MPs. In 2010, Robinson faced another scandal after it emerged his wife had an affair and alleged associated serious financial irregularities.

The Red Sky scandal, which DUP ministers tried to influence a decision at a Northern Ireland Housing Executive. A BBC Spotlight investigated the company and found that they had been overcharging taxpayers, and the company were awarded a £8 million which was subsequently cancelled. DUP then claimed, “sectarian bias” over the decision however, councillor Jenny Palmer was suspended after it was revealed that DUP special advisor Stephen Brimstone pressured her to change her vote at the meeting.

Since 2015 Arlene Foster became leader and her time has seen the Northern Ireland Assembly descend into chaos after in 2017, Martin McGuinness resigned in protest over the Renewable Heat incentive scandal, which cost the public purse £500 million, the scheme was set up by Arlene Foster when she was Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment minister. It has been claimed that DUP special advisors and Arlene Foster prevented the scheme from closure and that Foster tried to cleanse the records and hide her involvement of delaying the scheme.

Current DUP MPs

Along with Arlene Foster, who has also recently met with UDA leaders, the current set of MPs consist of Ian Paisley Jr, the son of the former leader and founder of the DUP and has previously described same-sex marriage as “immoral, offensive and obnoxious”. He also once stated, after a Republican attack on police, “If dissidents are shot on sight, the community will accept that it is a necessary use of lethal force to prevent dissident republicanism from growing.” Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who joined the DUP at 16, he said in 2015 and that gay couple asking for a wedding cake to celebrate was akin to asking for a cake to celebrate the Shankill Butchers, a murderous loyalist gang, in a Catholic area.

Nigel Dodds, other than the expense scandal, he was highly criticised for attending the wake of John Bingham in 1986, the leader of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force. His office was targeted by the Continuity IRA and he was knocked unconscious during riots in 2013, where loyalists pelted police with bricks and petrol bombs. Sammy Wilson, a staunch climate change denier who said to the Belfast Telegraph that in “20 years’ time” we would “look back on the whole climate change debate and ask how on earth did we believe this”. He also said during the EU referendum, after he was recorded saying to a member of the public that he was “absolutely right” to say, “get the ethnics out too.”

Paul Girvan, who once said he has “no problem” with the burning of the tricolour” and “that’s a foreign country as far as I am concerned”. Emma Little-Pengelly, who was publicly endorsed by a loyalist group linked to the loyalist paramilitary group, the UDA. David Simpson, who described pro-choice supporters as undemocratic, anti-libertarian and anti-human rights. Former Mayor of Belfast, Gavin Robinson. Jim Shannon, a former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and poetry fan Gregory Campbell, who has written in a social media post “We will never forsake the blue skies of freedom for the grey mists of the Irish Republic.”

Marcus, Ruth. “Gender aside, the fall of Irish politician Iris Robinson is the same old sex scandal“, Washington Post, 14 January 2010
Booth, Robert. “Who’s who in the DUP: party members poised to prop up the Tories”, The Guardian, 11 June 2017
“The DUP’s full role in Red Sky row revealed”. The Detail.
McCulloch, Allison (2014). Power-Sharing and Political Stability in Deeply Divided Societies. Routledge. p. 69. ISBN 9781317682196. Retrieved 10 June 2017.
“Dodds’ expenses bill NI’s highest”. BBC News.
“Beyond the Sectarian Divide: The Social Bases and Political Consequences of Nationalist and Unionist Party Competition in Ireland” by Geoffrey Evans and Mary Duffy. In British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 27, No. 1. (Jan. 1997), p.58


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