The DUP is the biggest Unionist party in Northern Ireland at the minute, currently holding the First Minister post — or at least when the Assembly is actually sitting. They helped hold up the British government between 2016-2019, back when Theresa May was Prime Minister, and for a short time when Boris Johnson became PM, although that changed after the December General Election of 2019.
But what are the simple points you need to know about the DUP before voting in the Assembly Election, and what values will you be voting for? In this blog, I am going to outline the key details you need to know about the DUP, so you can make the right decision on May 5.
The Democratic Unionist Party was founded by the late Ian Paisley in 1971 — an Evangelical Christian, who — prior to going into politics, was a minister. For this reason, a percentage of the party’s MLAs, MPs and electorate are Evangelical Christians, which has become a problem in politics within recent years. (There are also people in the party who would say they are moderate, but Evangelical beliefs are still a large part of their messages).
They are also — as the party’s full name suggests — Pro Union.
Now looking at Brexit, when the referendum on the UK leaving the EU was held, the DUP were the only party in Northern Ireland to support leaving the EU. They favoured a Brexit which would mean that the UK “leaves as one”, but when Soft Brexit options were debated in Westminster (I will do a series of blogs later describing the entire story of Brexit and why it still matters), they voted against each one.
When Boris Johnson came to power, originally on a “Pro Union” mandate, he promised that he would “Get Brexit Done”. After renegotiating the original Withdrawal Agreement and offering it to the EU, the DUP originally endorsed Johnson’s offer on the 2nd of October 2019, before announcing on the 17th of the same month that they planned to vote against it. When the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement eventually went to Parliament, the DUP voted against the Trade Deal, but it ended up passing anyway in December 2020, effectively delivering what is known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, or — explained simply for anyone who doesn’t follow UK politics — a border down the Irish Sea.
This is where the definition of the DUP starts getting interesting, as we see how much they changed in 2021.
Despite being firmly against the Protocol, the DUP started 2021 by trying to make the best of it. The then leader, Arlene Foster, even made a controversial appearance on The Late, Late Show on RTÉ, where she emphasised that, despite having left, the UK and the EU are still friends, and should work together. But within two months of the interview happening, there were calls for Arlene Foster to resign in April 2021 — after facing calls for her resignation and backlash from her inner circle of MLAs / MPs, after claims were made that she’s softened the DUP’s stance on Gay issues — not that the previous comments she made would have foretold this at all.
Since then, the DUP have found themselves tangled up in a mix of leadership crises, that has seen them going from having one leader to three within a few months (a milestone which has only been held before by their once big but from 2005 little brother, the UUP), with Edwin Poots — Arlene’s original replacement — only lasting for 21 days.
Poots was a Hard Line Unionist, who comes from a religious background, and is a big fan of the environment.
Their current leader is Sir Jeffrey Donaldson — a man who some say is moderate but who wants to be taken more seriously — who sent shock waves throughout Northern Ireland recently, by pulling the now former-First Minister, Paul Givan, out of government, in protest that the NI Protocol hasn’t been collapsed. This means that yet again, Northern Ireland has been left without a government, and to make matters worse, the parties still insist on arguing like little children, which means that — thanks to the Good Friday / Belfast and St Andrews Agreement — if one party doesn’t come back into the Assembly, Northern Ireland doesn’t have a government, unless Westminster returns us to Direct Rule, which just isn’t going to happen.
So to summarise what the DUP is:
- They are a Christian, Pro-Union Party, with a percentage of Evangelical support, although they are also supported by mixed religions, even to the moderate extent.
- They supported the UK leaving the EU in the 2016 Referendum, and wanted a deal where the entire UK left together, which lead them mostly into supporting most Hard Brexit Deals.
- Before the British government passed Gay Marriage and Abortion Services into NI law, they were fundamentally against both political issues.
- They are against Irish Language legislation, and Ulster Scots — but mainly due to how much each act will cost, and what money could get put into other areas.
- They are determined to see the Northern Ireland Protocol collapsed, and will not return to the Assembly unless this happens.
Paisley, Ian (Dictionary of Irish Biography): https://www.dib.ie/biography/paisley-ian-a10164
Ian Paisley first Minister of Northern Ireland: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ian-Paisley
Brexit: DUP Endorses Johnson’s Offer to European Union: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-49910285
DUP Says it Cannot Support Boris Johnson’s Brexit Deal: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/oct/17/dup-boris-johnson-brexit-deal
DUP MPs to Vote Against Boris Johnson’s Post-Brexit Trade Deal: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-49910285
Arlene Foster, First Minister of Northern Ireland | The Late, Late Show | RTÉ One: https://youtu.be/NncuM5XAGfU
Arlene Foster Announces Resignation as DUP Leader and NI First Minister: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-56910045
DUP Leadership Vote to Take Place on 14 May: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-56973796
Edwin Poots Elected DUP Leader to Succeed Arlene Foster: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/may/14/edwin-poots-elected-dup-leader-to-succeed-arlene-foster
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson Ratified as DUP Leader by Party Executive: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/jun/30/sir-jeffrey-donaldson-ratified-as-dup-leader-by-party-executivehttps://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/jun/30/sir-jeffrey-donaldson-ratified-as-dup-leader-by-party-executive
Northern Irish Devolution Collapses Again: https://www.economist.com/britain/2022/02/12/northern-irish-devolution-collapses-again