Democratic Unionist Party

The political landscape of the UK is made up of a number of key political parties. The rise of smaller, regional parties such as the Democratic Unionist Party has seen to significantly impact on UK politics in recent years recently, hence, why we need to explore them.

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Table of contents

    When thinking about the Democratic Unionist Party, you might already have a number of questions such as: What is the Democratic Unionist Party? What is a loyalist? What is the Troubles?

    These are all questions we will be answering in this article. We will also explore the aims and policies of Democratic Unionist Party, the political history of the party, its leaders and current representatives

    The Democratic Unionist Party

    The Democratic Unionist Party (also referred to as the DUP) is a political party that operates solely in Northern Ireland. It is the largest party, alongside the political party Sinn Fein, in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The DUP is also the 5th largest party in the House of Commons.

    Democratic Unionist Party Map of Northern Ireland StudySmarterFig. 1 Map of Northern Ireland

    In terms of ideology, the party is right-wing and they tend to be socially conservative so are against abortion and same-sex marriage. The DUP is also Eurosceptic, which means they are critical of the European Union, and believes in protecting their Britishness from Irish nationalism.

    The party also has strong links with religion, in particular the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, which is a protestant church that was founded by the same person who found the DUP, Ian Paisley, a Northern Irish loyalist politician as well as and Protestant leader.

    The history of the Democratic Unionist Party

    The DUP has a complex history, set against the backdrop of the Troubles. To get to know this political party we will explore some of the key features of the Democratic Unionist Party:

    1. Democratic Unionist Party Founders

    2. Democratic Unionist Party Theories

    3. Democratic Unionist Party and the Troubles

    The Troubles

    An entho-nationalist conflict between Republicans and Unionists. The conflict centred in Northern Ireland between the late 1960s and lasted until 1998.

    Democratic Unionist Party Founders

    Unlike other political parties like the Conservative and Labour party, the DUP was founded relatively recently in 1971. The Democratic Unionist Party Founders were Ian Paisley and Desmond Boal, a unionist politician and barrister from Northern Ireland.

    DUP founder Ian Paisley, loyalist figurehead was the leader of the party for 37 years from 1971 to 2008.

    Democratic Unionist Party Ian Paisley StudySmarterFig. 2 Ian Paisley

    Democratic Unionist Party Theories

    The party emerged out of the Protestant Unionist Party, which was active from 1966 to 1971 and was established as a result of the Ulster Protestant Action. The DUP was built on a foundation of Northern Irish unionist ideology.

    Unionist

    The political belief Northern Ireland should remain as a part of the United Kingdom, rather than join with the Republic of Ireland.

    Democratic Unionist Party and the Troubles

    The party was created during the Troubles, a time period in Northern Ireland where there was ethno-nationalist conflict. Supporters of the DUP opposed the Sunningdale Agreement (1973) which was introduced to install a power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive but collapsed because of opposition and strikes.

    As a result, the British government formed an elected body of unionists and republicans that would work together to make a political settlement in Northern Ireland, with unionists winning more than half of the vote and wanting a majority rule government, not a power-shared one with republicans. The nationalists did not accept this and the elected body collapsed.

    The Troubles saw conflict between Republicans (in favour of an independent and integrated Irish republic) and Unionists (in favour of a Northern Ireland governed as a part of the United Kingdom).

    In 1985, the Anglo-Irish Agreement was born, this agreement gave Ireland an advisory role in some matters concerning Northern Ireland and declared that Northern Ireland would not have a status change unless the majority of citizens voted in favour of it. In response, the unionist parties resigned from the House of Commons, led strikes and protests which then led to Prime Minister Thatcher regretting the signing of the agreement but helped create the Good Friday Agreement (an agreement that ended the Troubles).

    Then at the beginning of the 1990s, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Prime Minister Charles Hughey began talks, the DUP were completely against this and later that year created the Third Force, a militia that was established to work alongside the police to fight the Irish Republican Army.

    Later, in 1988, the Good Friday Agreement was established, which was also heavily opposed by the DUP but was agreed by over 70% of the electorate. The DUP has since maintained its position in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the British parliament.

    The Third Force:

    The Third Force was a militia established by Ian Paisley which advocated for Ulster loyalist ideologies. They would hold rallies dressed in balaclavas and field jackets running with the slogan 'For God and Ulster'. At the time of its formation, the group opposed the increasing cooperation between the British government and the Republic of Ireland.

    Democratic Unionist Party Third Force Emblem StudySmarterFig. 3 Emblem of the Third Force

    It was a significant moment in the history of the Troubles. During Third Force rallies, the police and army were absent which led people to believe that they did not have the required power to defeat The Third Force1.

    Democratic Unionist Party Political Beliefs and Policies

    Like all political parties, the DUP represents a “broad church” of views and political beliefs across elected MPs and party members. Similarly, it is important to acknowledge that each political party evolves over time in response to voter opinion and different political or economic challenges. However, some core political characteristics can be highlighted by observing the policies highlighted in DUP election manifesto pledges.

    Unionism

    In terms of policies, the DUP is firstly seen as a unionist organisation, this means they believed Northern Ireland should stay as a part of the United Kingdom and not join with the Republic of Ireland. Throughout the Troubles, supporters of the DUP continuously reinforce their “Britishness” and support for union with the UK by regularly hanging the British flag in government buildings. Throughout the history of the political party, the DUP has shared close relations with the UK government.

    Following a snap election in 2017 which resulted in a hung parliament, the DUP agreed to provide “confidence and supply” support to the Conservative party. This enabled the Conservative party to form a minority government led by Theresa May.

    European policy

    The DUP is Eurosceptic and supported the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. However, it is important to note, that since the withdrawal, the DUP have expressed opposition to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland which would serve as a barrier to migration and the passage of goods and services.

    Social policy

    In regards to social policy, the DUP have a conservative stance and has very strong links to the Protestant Church. For instance, the DUP expressed opposition to legalising abortion in Northern Ireland. Following the legalisation of abortion care in Northern Ireland in October 2019, former leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, described the reform as “shameful”2.

    Economic policy

    Economically, the DUP are in favour of an increase in defence spending, raising the minimum wage, an increasing in spending on public services such as health. They are not very outspoken about climate change so their view on the issue is not clear.

    The Leadership of DUP

    The table below shows all the previous DUP leaders since its establishment.

    Democratic Unionist Party DUP Leader Table StudySmarterFig. 4 DUP leaders 1971-2021

    Currently, the Democratic Unionist Party Leader is Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. MP for Lagan Valley since 1997, Donaldson is Northern Ireland's longest-serving sitting MP.

    Current representatives of the party

    • Local Government in Northern Ireland(Councillors)

    The party out of the462 seats has114seats.

    • Welsh Assembly (AMs)

    The party has zero (0) seats out of the sixty (60) seats in the Welsh Assembly.

    • Scottish Parliament (MSPs)

    Out of the129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, the party has zero (0) seats.

    • London Assembly (AMs)

    In total, the London Assembly has twenty-five (25) seats and the party has zero (0) seats.

    • House of Lords (Peers)

    The party has 5 seats out of the 783 seats in the House of Lords.

    • House of Commons (MPs)

    In the House of Commons there are a total of 650 seats, 18 of these are allocated to Northern Ireland and the DUP holds 8 of these

    • Northern Ireland Assembly (AMs)

    The party has twenty-six (26) seats out of the ninety (90) seats in the Welsh Assembly.

    Democratic Unionist Party - Key Takeaways

    • The Democratic Unionist Party is known as a unionist and loyalist political party that is solely in Northern Ireland.
    • It is the largest party alongside the political party Sinn Fein in the Northern Ireland Assembly, it is also the 5th largest party in the House of Commons.
    • The party is right-wing and they tend to be socially conservative so are against abortion and same-sex marriage.
    • The DUP is also Eurosceptic and believes in protecting their Britishness from Irish nationalism.
    • The DUP was founded in 1971 by Ian Paisley and Desmond Boal.
    • The party was created during the Troubles, a time period in Northern Ireland where there was ethno-nationalist conflict.
    • Economically, the DUP are in favour of an increase in defence spending.
    • They are not very outspoken about climate change so their view on the issue is not clear.

    References

    1. Time, Northern Ireland: Unleashing the Third Force, 1981
    2. L. Skoulding, Left Foot Forward, 2019
    3. Fig. 1 Northern Ireland in the UK and Europe (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Northern_Ireland_in_the_UK_and_Europe.svg) derivative work by Alphaton (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alphathon) licenced by CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en) On Wikimedia Commons
    4. Fig. 2 Ian Paisley (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DrIanPaisley.jpg) by Alison (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alison) licenced by CC-BY-2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en) on Wikimedia Commons
    5. Fig. 3 Emblem of the Third Force (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Emblem_of_Third_Force_(Northern_Ireland).svg) by MrPenguin20 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:MrPenguin21) licenced by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en) on Wikimedia Commons
    Frequently Asked Questions about Democratic Unionist Party

    What is the Democratic Unionist Party?

    The Democratic Unionist Party is a political party that operates solely in Northern Ireland.

    What does the Democratic Unionist Party believe in?

    The DUP believes in Northern Ireland staying part of the UK, supports the UK leaving the European Union and have conservative stance on social policy as well as being linked to the Protestant church. But it is important to note that parties can evolve and change their opinion due to their voter demographic or political issues.

    When was the Democratic Unionist Party founded?

    1971

    Who is the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party?

    As of April 2022, Sir Jeffery Donaldson

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Who found the DUP?

    Who was the leader of the DUP for 37 years?

    Did the DUP oppose the Sunningdale Agreement (1973)?

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