Democratic Unionist Party

Democratic Unionist Party
LeaderArlene Foster
ChairmanLord Morrow
Deputy Leader / Westminster LeaderNigel Dodds
FounderIan Paisley
Founded30 September 1971; 46 years ago (1971-09-30)
Preceded byProtestant Unionist Party
Headquarters91 Dundela Avenue
Belfast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
IdeologyBritish nationalism[1]
British unionism[2]
National conservatism[2]
Right-wing populism[4]
Social conservatism[2][5][6]
Political positionCentre-right[8][9][10] to Right-wing[11][12]
European affiliationNone
European Parliament groupNon-Inscrits
  • Red
  • white
  • blue
House of Commons
(NI Seats)
10 / 18
House of Lords
4 / 784
European Parliament
(NI seats)
1 / 3
NI Assembly
27 / 90
Local government in Northern Ireland[13]
131 / 462

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is a unionist political party in Northern Ireland. Ian Paisley founded the DUP in 1971, during the Troubles, and led the party for the next 37 years. Now led by Arlene Foster, it is the party with the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the fifth-largest party in the House of Commons. Following the 2017 general election, the party has agreed to support a Conservative minority government on a case-by-case basis on matters of mutual concern.[14]

The DUP evolved from the Protestant Unionist Party and has historically strong links to the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, the church Paisley founded. During the Troubles, the DUP opposed attempts to resolve the conflict that would involve sharing power with Irish nationalists or republicans, and rejected attempts to involve the Republic of Ireland in Northern Irish affairs. It campaigned against the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973, the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. In the 1980s, the party was involved in setting up the paramilitary movements Third Force and Ulster Resistance.

It is Centre-right to Right-wing and socially conservative, being anti-abortion and opposing same-sex marriage. The DUP sees itself as defending Britishness and Ulster Protestant culture against Irish nationalism. The party is Eurosceptic and during the UK European Union (EU) referendum it supported the UK's withdrawal from the EU.[15][16]

For most of the DUP's history, the Ulster Unionist Party was the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland, but by 2004 the DUP had overtaken the UUP in terms of seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and Parliament. Following the St Andrews Agreement in 2006, the DUP agreed to enter into power-sharing devolved government in Northern Ireland with Sinn Féin. Despite reports of divisions within the party, a majority of the party executive voted in favour of power-sharing in 2007.[17] However, the DUP's sole Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Jim Allister,[18] and seven DUP councillors[19] left the party in opposition to its plans to share power with Sinn Féin, founding the Traditional Unionist Voice.[20] Peter Robinson became DUP leader in 2008.



Ian Paisley, who founded the party and led it for 37 years

The Democratic Unionist Party evolved from the Protestant Unionist Party, which itself grew out of the Ulster Protestant Action movement. The DUP was founded on 30 September 1971 by Ian Paisley, leader of the Protestant Unionist Party, and Desmond Boal, formerly of the Ulster Unionist Party. Paisley, a well-known Protestant fundamentalist minister, was the founder and leader of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. He would lead both the DUP and the Free Presbyterian Church for the next 37 years, and his party and church would be closely linked. When the DUP formed, Northern Ireland was in the midst of an ethnic-nationalist conflict known as the Troubles, which began in 1969 and would last for the next thirty years. The conflict began amid a campaign to end discrimination against the Catholic/Irish nationalist minority by the Protestant/unionist government and police force.[21][22] This protest campaign was opposed, often violently, by unionists who viewed it as an Irish republican front. Paisley had led the unionist opposition to the civil rights movement. The DUP were more hardline or loyalist than the UUP and its founding arguably stemmed from worries of the Ulster Protestant working class that the UUP was not paying them enough heed.[23]

The DUP opposed the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973. The Agreement was an attempt to resolve the conflict by setting up a new assembly and government for Northern Ireland in which unionists and Irish nationalists would share power. The Agreement also proposed the creation of a Council of Ireland, which would facilitate co-operation between the governments of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The DUP won eight seats in the 1973 election to the Assembly. Along with other anti-Agreement unionists, the DUP formed the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) to oppose the Agreement. In the February 1974 UK election, the UUUC won 11 out of 12 Northern Ireland seats, while the pro-Agreement unionists failed to win any. On 15 May 1974, anti-Agreement unionists called a general strike aimed at bringing down the Agreement. The strike coordinating committee included DUP leader Paisley, the other UUUC leaders, and the leaders of the loyalist paramilitary groups. The strike lasted fourteen days and brought Northern Ireland to a standstill. Loyalist paramilitaries helped enforce the strike by blocking roads and intimidating workers.[24][25][26] On the third day of the strike, loyalists detonated four car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan, killing 33 civilians.[27] The strike led to the downfall of the Agreement on 28 May.

Following the downfall of the Agreement, in 1975 the British government set up a Constitutional Convention, an elected body of unionists and nationalists which would seek agreement on a political settlement for Northern Ireland. In the election to the Convention, the UUUC (which included the DUP) won 53% of the vote. The UUUC opposed a power-sharing government and recommended only a return to majority rule (i.e. unionist rule). As this was unacceptable to nationalists, the Convention was dissolved.[28]

The DUP opposed UK membership of the European Economic Community (EEC). In June 1979, in the first election to the European Parliament, Paisley won one of the three Northern Ireland seats. He topped the poll, with 29.8% of the first preference votes.[29] He retained that seat in every European election until 2004, when he was replaced by Jim Allister, who resigned from the DUP in 2007 while retaining his seat.[18]

1980s and 1990s

During 1981, the DUP opposed the then-ongoing talks between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey. That year, Paisley and other DUP members attempted to create a Protestant loyalist volunteer militia—called the (Ulster) Third Force—which would work alongside the police and army to fight the Irish Republican Army (IRA). They organized large rallies where men were photographed in military formation waving firearms certificates. Paisley declared: "This is a small token of the men who are placed to devastate any attempt by Margaret Thatcher and Charles Haughey to destroy the Union".[30] The DUP helped organize a loyalist 'Day of Action' on 23 November 1981, to pressure the British government to take a harder line against the IRA.[31] Paisley addressed a Third Force rally in Newtownards, where thousands of masked and uniformed men marched before him. He declared: "My men are ready to be recruited under the crown to destroy the vermin of the IRA. But if they refuse to recruit them, then we will have no other decision to make but to destroy the IRA ourselves!"[32] In December, Paisley claimed that the Third Force had 15,000–20,000 members. James Prior, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, replied that private armies would not be tolerated.[31]

The Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed by the British and Irish governments in November 1985, following months of talks between the two. The Agreement confirmed there would be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of a majority of its citizens, and proposed the creation of a new power-sharing government. It also gave the Irish government an advisory role on some matters in Northern Ireland. Both the DUP and UUP mounted a major protest campaign against the Agreement, dubbed "Ulster Says No". Both unionist parties resigned their seats in the British House of Commons, suspended district council meetings, and led a campaign of mass civil disobedience. There were strikes and mass protest rallies.[33]

On 23 June 1986, DUP politicians occupied the Stormont Parliament Building in protest at the Agreement, while 200 supporters protested outside and clashed with police.[33] The DUP politicians were forcibly removed by police the next day.[33] On 10 July, Paisley and deputy DUP leader Peter Robinson led 4,000 loyalist supporters in a protest in which they 'occupied' the town of Hillsborough. Hillsborough Castle is where the Agreement had been signed.[33] On 7 August, Robinson led hundreds of loyalist supporters in an invasion of the village of Clontibret, in the Republic of Ireland. The loyalists marched up and down the main street, vandalised property, and attacked two Irish police officers (Gardaí) before fleeing back over the border. Robinson was arrested and convicted for unlawful assembly.[34]

On 10 November 1986, a rally was held in which DUP politicians Paisley, Robinson and Ivan Foster announced the formation of the Ulster Resistance Movement (URM). This was a loyalist paramilitary group whose purpose was to "take direct action as and when required" to bring down the Agreement and defeat republicanism.[35] Recruitment rallies were held in towns across Northern Ireland and thousands were said to have joined.[35] The following year, the URM helped smuggle a large shipment of weapons into Northern Ireland, which were shared out between the URM, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). Most, but not all, of the weaponry was seized by police in 1988. In 1989, URM members attempted to trade Shorts' missile blueprints for weapons from the apartheid South African regime. Following these revelations, the DUP said that it had cut its links with the URM in 1987.[36]

In the mid-1980s, the Irish republican party Sinn Féin began to contest and win seats in local council elections. In response, the DUP fought elections under the slogan "Smash Sinn Féin" and vowed to exclude Sinn Féin councillors from all council business. Their 1985 manifesto said "The Sinn Féiners must be ostracised and isolated" at all local government bodies. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, DUP councillors attempted to exclude Sinn Féin councillors by ignoring them, boycotting their speeches, or drowning them out by making as much noise as possible – such as by heckling and banging tables.[37]

In early January 1994, the Ulster Defence Association released a document calling for the repartition of Ireland with the goal of making Northern Ireland wholly Protestant.[38] The plan was to be implemented should the British Army withdraw from Northern Ireland. The Irish Catholic/nationalist-majority areas would be handed over to the Republic, and those left in the rump state would be "expelled, nullified, or interned".[38] Sammy Wilson, then a DUP press officer and a future Stormont minister and MP, spoke positively of the document, calling it a "valuable return to reality" and lauded the UDA for "contemplating what needs to be done to maintain our separate Ulster identity".[38]


During the Northern Ireland peace process of the 1990s, the DUP was initially involved in the negotiations under former United States Senator George J. Mitchell that led to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, but withdrew in protest when Sinn Féin, an Irish republican party with links to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), was allowed to participate while the IRA kept its weapons. The DUP opposed the Agreement in the Good Friday Agreement referendum, in which the Agreement was approved with 71.1% of the electorate in favour.

The DUP's opposition was based on a number of reasons, including:

  • The early release of paramilitary prisoners
  • The mechanism to allow Sinn Féin to hold government office despite ongoing IRA activity (of which it was the political wing)
  • The lack of accountability of ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive
  • The lack of accountability of the North/South Ministerial Council and North/South Implementation Bodies

The DUP contested the 1998 Northern Ireland Assembly election that resulted from the Good Friday Agreement, winning 20 seats, the third-highest of any party. It then took up two of the ten seats in the multi-party power-sharing Executive. While serving as ministers, they refused to sit at meetings of the Executive Committee in protest at Sinn Féin's participation.[citation needed] The Executive ultimately collapsed over an alleged IRA espionage ring at Stormont (see Stormontgate).

The Good Friday Agreement relied on the support of a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalists in order for it to operate.[citation needed] During the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly election, the DUP argued for a "fair deal" that could command the support of both unionists and nationalists. After the results of this election the DUP argued that support was no longer present within unionism for the Good Friday Agreement. They went on to publish their proposals for devolution in Ireland entitled Devolution Now.[39] These proposals have been refined and re-stated in further policy documents including Moving on[40] and Facing Reality.[41]

In the 2003 Northern Ireland Assembly election, the DUP won 30 seats, the most of any party. In January 2004, it became the largest Northern Ireland party at Westminster, when MP Jeffrey Donaldson joined after defecting from the UUP. In December 2004, English MP Andrew Hunter took the DUP whip after earlier withdrawing from the Conservative Party, giving the party seven seats, in comparison to the UUP's five, Sinn Féin's four, and the Social Democratic and Labour Party's (SDLP) three.


In the 2005 UK general election, the party reinforced its position as the largest unionist party, winning nine seats, making it the fourth largest party in terms of seats in the British House of Commons behind Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. In terms of votes, the DUP was the fourth largest party on the island of Ireland.

At the local government election of 2005, the DUP emerged as the largest party at local government level with 182 councillors across Northern Ireland's 26 district councils.[42] The DUP had a majority of the members on Castlereagh Borough Council, which had long been a DUP stronghold and was home to party leader Peter Robinson, also in Ballymena Borough Council, home to the party's founder Ian Paisley, and finally Ards Borough Council. As well as outright control on these councils, the DUP was also the largest party in eight other councils – Antrim Borough Council, Ballymoney Borough Council, Banbridge District Council, Belfast City Council, Carrickfergus Borough Council, Coleraine Borough Council, Craigavon Borough Council and Newtownabbey Borough Council.

On 11 April 2006, it was announced that three DUP members were to be elevated to the House of Lords: Maurice Morrow, Wallace Browne, the former Lord Mayor of Belfast, and Eileen Paisley, a vice-president of the DUP and wife of DUP Leader Ian Paisley. None, however, sit as DUP peers.

On 27 October 2006, the DUP issued a four-page letter in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper asking "Are the terms of Saint Andrew's a basis of moving forward to devolution?", with responses to be received to its party headquarters by 8 November. It was part of the party's policy of consultation with its electorate before entering a power-sharing government.[citation needed]

On 24 November 2006, Ian Paisley refused to nominate himself as First Minister of Northern Ireland designate. There was confusion between all parties whether he actually said that if Sinn Féin supported policing and the rule of law that he would nominate himself on 28 March 2007 after the Assembly elections on 7 March 2007. The Assembly meeting was brought to an abrupt end when the building had to be evacuated because of a security breach. Paisley later released a statement through the press office stating that he did in fact imply that if Sinn Féin supported policing and the rule of law, he would go into a power-sharing government with them. This was following a statement issued by 12 DUP MLAs stating that what Ian Paisley had said in the chamber could not be interpreted as a nomination.[43]

In February 2007, the DUP suggested that it would begin to impose fines up to £20,000 on members disobeying the party whip on crucial votes.[44] On 24 March 2007 the DUP party executive overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution put to them by the party officers that did not agree to an establishment of devolution and an executive in Northern Ireland by the Government's deadline of 26 March, but did agree to setting up an executive on 8 May 2007.[17]

On 27 March 2007, the party's sole Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Jim Allister, resigned from the party, in opposition to the decision to enter a power-sharing government with Sinn Féin. He retained his seat as an independent MEP as leader of his new hard-line anti-St Andrews Agreement splinter group that he formed with other disaffected members who had left the DUP over the issue, Traditional Unionist Voice, a seat which he retained until Diane Dodds won the seat back for the DUP in 2009. MP Gregory Campbell warned on 6 April 2007 that his party would be watching to see if benefits flow from its agreement to share power with Sinn Féin.[45]

Robinson leadership

Peter Robinson, the party's deputy leader from 1980 and its leader from 2008–2015

On 31 May 2008, the party's central Executive Committee met at the offices of Castlereagh Borough Council where Ian Paisley formally stepped down as party leader and Peter Robinson was ratified as the new leader, with Nigel Dodds as his deputy.

On 11 June 2008, the party supported the government's proposal to detain terrorist suspects for up to 42 days as part of the Counter-Terrorism Bill, leading The Independent newspaper to dub all of the party's nine MPs as part of "Brown's dirty dozen".[46] The Times reported that the party had been given "sweeteners for Northern Ireland" and "a peerage for the Rev Ian Paisley", amongst other offers, to secure the bill.[47]

Members of the DUP were lambasted by the press and voters, after MPs' expenses reports were leaked to the media. Several newspapers referred to the "Swish Family Robinson" after Peter Robinson, and his wife Iris, claimed £571,939.41 in expenses with a further £150,000 being paid to family members.[48] Further embarrassment was caused to the party when its deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, had the highest expenses claims of any Northern Ireland MP, ranking 13th highest out of all UK MPs.[49] Details of all MPs' expenses claims since 2004 were published in July 2009 under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

In January 2010, Peter Robinson was at the centre of a high-profile scandal relating to his 60-year-old MP/MLA wife Iris Robinson's infidelity with a 19-year-old man, and alleged serious financial irregularities associated with the scandal.[50][51]

In the 2010 general election, the party suffered a major upset when its leader, Peter Robinson, lost his Belfast East seat to Naomi Long of the APNI on a swing of 22.9%. However, the party maintained its position elsewhere, fighting off a challenge from the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force in Antrim South and Strangford and from Jim Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice in Antrim North.

The DUP were strongly criticised after the Red Sky scandal in which DUP ministers attempted to influence a decision at a meeting of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The decision related to a £8 million contract of east Belfast firm Red Sky. The Housing Executive cancelled Red Sky's contract after a BBC Spotlight investigation into the company, which was shown to be overcharging taxpayers. The DUP cited "sectarian bias" in relation to the decision.[52] The party suspended DUP councillor Jenny Palmer, who sat on the Executive board, after she confessed that DUP special adviser Stephen Brimstone pressured her into changing her vote at the meeting.

In the 2015 general election, when the result was expected to be a hung parliament, the issue of DUP and the UK Independence Party forming a coalition government with the UK Conservative Party was considered by Nigel Farage (leader of UKIP).[53][54] The then Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, warned against this "Blukip" coalition, with a spoof website highlighting imagined policies from this coalition – such as reinstating the death penalty, scrapping all benefits for under 25s and charging for hospital visits.[55] Additionally, issues were raised about the continued existence of the BBC (as the DUP, UKIP and Conservatives had made a number of statements criticising the institution)[56] and support for same-sex marriage.[57][58] However, in an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live deputy leader of the DUP Nigel Dodds told BBC Newsline that the DUP was "against discrimination based on religion ... or sexual orientation".[58]

On 10 September 2015, Peter Robinson stepped aside as First Minister and other DUP ministers, with the exception of Arlene Foster, resigned their portfolios.[59]

Foster leadership

Arlene Foster became leader of the DUP on 17 December 2015, and served as First Minister of Northern Ireland from January 2016 to January 2017.

Two days before the UK Brexit referendum, held on 23 June 2016, the DUP paid £282,000 for a four-page glossy wrap-around to the free newspaper Metro, which is distributed in major towns and cities in the British mainland, but not Northern Ireland, advocating a 'Leave' vote.[60]

On 4 October 2016, First Minister Arlene Foster and DUP MPs held a champagne reception at the Conservative Party conference, marking what some have described as an "informal coalition" or an "understanding" between the two parties to account for the Conservatives' narrow majority in the House of Commons.[61][62] In October 2017, DUP held a similar reception at the Conservative Party conference, which was attended by leading Conservative figures including First Secretary of State Damian Green, Brexit Secretary David Davis, then-Chief Whip Gavin Williamson, and party chairman Patrick McLoughlin.[63] This was reciprocated in November, when Damian Green and Conservative Chief Whip Julian Smith attended the DUP's conference, with Smith giving a keynote address.[64] Prominent Conservative Ministers and ex-Ministers such as Environment Secretary Michael Gove and former International Development Secretary Priti Patel also headlined fundraising events for the DUP in September 2017 and February 2018 respectively.[65]

Former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage also spoke at a DUP fundraiser in May 2018, with his main financial backer, Arron Banks, stating that he would support a bid by Farage to seek office as a DUP candidate after the end of his tenure as Member of the European Parliament in 2019.[66]

In her capacity as Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in 2012, Foster oversaw the establishment of a green energy scheme, which led to the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal. The scheme gave a perverse incentive to use more energy and increase their carbon footprint to those who signed up to it since they could claim £1.60 for every £1 spent on heating with, for example, wood pellets.[67] With no cost controls, it could cost the public purse up to £490 million.

Foster refused to resign or step aside during any inquiry into her role in the scheme, which in January 2017 led Martin McGuinness to resign and the Northern Ireland Executive to collapse. A snap election followed after Sinn Féin refused to re-nominate a deputy First Minister. In this Northern Ireland Assembly election, held in March 2017, the DUP lost 10 seats, leaving them only one seat and 1,200 votes ahead of Sinn Féin, a result described by the Belfast Telegraph as "catastrophic".[68]

In the UK 2017 general election, the DUP had 10 seats overall, 3 seats ahead of Sinn Féin.[69] With no party having received an outright majority in the UK Parliament, the DUP entered into an agreement to support government by the Conservative Party.[70] A DUP source said: "The alternative is intolerable. For as long as Corbyn leads Labour, we will ensure there’s a Tory PM."[70]

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