Brief rundown on the DUP for friends elsewhere
Look, I’m tired of it all too. I’m saturated with election, I’m sure we all are, but you’d be doing me a big favour if you wanted to help me get it out of my system. If you’re living in some part of the UK other than Northern Ireland, you might not know a great deal about the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and you’re maybe trying to piece together who they are, and their background, what it will mean that Theresa May is making a pact with them to compensate for her lost majority, etc. Let’s assume you are. Otherwise, I guess, you’re probably not going to keep reading, which is fair.
So most of what you’re hearing about the DUP is probably quite negative. That’s…well, that’s pretty fair. I think it’s bad news too, personally. Here’s a little information about the DUP — and about what’s been happening in Northern Irish politics over the past while — to help contextualise what’s happening.
- The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) is traditionally the party of hard-line Protestant-majority Unionism, founded 1971 by (angry, shouting) Ian Paisley. They campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement in the ’90s, unwilling to negotiate with Sinn Féin because of their strong association with the IRA, but eventually came to the table and helped bring about the St Andrew’s Agreement in 2007.
- The only majorly Pro-Brexit party in Northern Ireland, they ran their own Leave campaign and they’re all up for following through. They do want some special protections for Northern Ireland on account of the border and whatnot, but they’re opposed to Sinn Féin’s proposal of a Border Poll (kind of a referendum on Irish reunification); Northern Ireland can rejoin the EU without recourse to Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, but only by joining the Republic of Ireland, so as Gerry Adams (Sinn Féin President) said himself: “Never waste a crisis”.
- They’re opposed to the Conservatives on a few issues of policy: the DUP want to keep the Triple Lock on pensions, which the Tories want to cut; they also want an increase in the national living wage, increases to personal tax allowance and to protect universal benefits (for NI at least). So there’s that.
- The DUP are in the increasingly unique position as a party of opposing same-sex marriage, which is going to be a hard sell for some Tories since it was their party who introduced it a few years ago, not to mention everyone else in general. This isn’t a side-policy for the DUP either; they ran a campaign in the ’80s called “Save Ulster from Sodomy” and Jim Wells, one of their Assembly members, said a few weeks ago that he would leave the party if there was any move to change its position. On top of that they’re super pro-life (I think most Northern Irish parties are), which is obviously going to draw criticism.
- Some of their members are climate change deniers — Sammy Wilson, for one, who was once appointed Environment Minister — and others deny evolution as well, but as far as I know the DUP doesn’t actually have a formal stance on either of those things, and they do support the country’s commitment to the Paris Accord. Sammy Wilson just wound up in that job because the DUP are silly and there’s a tight inner circle at the top.
- The DUP are coming into this weird new relationship off the back of pretty crazy scandal. For those who aren’t aware: towards the end of last year, it was discovered that a renewable energy scheme set up by First Minister Arlene Foster (DUP leader) when she had been at a different Department was basically wasting up to half a billion pounds of public money — it was a financial incentive aimed at encouraging businesses to burn wood pellets, and it ended up paying out £1.60 for every £1 a company spent on wood pellets. Everyone demanded Arlene Foster step aside but she refused, so Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned, which caused the Assembly to collapse (as per how our thing works over here).*
- So, we had an Assembly election earlier this year — you mightn’t know that, because the BBC barely covered it on a national level, because the rest of the UK doesn’t tend to care much about Northern Irish politics until Theresa May suffers an embarrassing electoral loss and has to make a deal with the devil, and the chickens come home to roost.
- Anyway the two parties who came out on top were the DUP and their old enemies Sinn Féin, and since then the two have been engaged in negotiating terms for forming a new government (our devolved government works on a basis of mandatory coalition, as part of a commitment to power-sharing). This process has fallen apart and started again, several times, but has been on hold since Theresa May called the General Election (so yes, Northern Ireland hasn’t had a government for months)
- Which brings us up to…now. Theresa May is having to turn to the DUP, of all people, to save her ass now that she’s lost her majority; the DUP are now Northern Ireland’s sole representation at Westminster, not only because of their special relationship with the Tories, but because Sinn Féin don’t take their seats at Westminster as a matter of party policy and the only other two parties with MPs (Ulster Unionists and the SDLP) just lost all their seats. Meanwhile, the negotiations for restoring devolved government here in Northern Ireland will presumably be back on the agenda in the coming weeks, and we can assume the DUP will be approaching the table with a certain swagger now they have Whitehall more firmly behind them. Let’s see how this goes. Oh boy.**
*- I’m speaking from a certain perspective obviously, but I can’t overemphasise the arrogance with which the DUP handled this issue, blaming civil servants and hurling insults (even at each other); Arlene Foster even posted a meme on facebook about how the “haters” don’t faze her. When she was called to give her official statement on the matter to the Assembly, all the other parties stood up and walked out of the chamber (it was great).
** — Something to look out for: the DUP and the Conservatives have both been dead-set against calls to prosecute British soldiers for murders committed during the Troubles. I can see this new government taking a hardline on that.