© Toby Melville / Reuters
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) holds the key to Theresa May remaining in Downing Street but what do we know about this Protestant party drawn from the pro-union side of Northern Ireland’s deeply sectarian political spectrum?
As Britons scramble to learn about the party that will prop up May’s mandate to execute Brexit, a swathe of the online conversation has focused on the party’s past comments on homophobia, Islam and creationism.
The DUP was at the center of a bloody sectarian divide during Northern Ireland’s Troubles – a conflict involving rival paramilitary groups and the British Army which claimed more than 3,000 lives over 30 years.
The Conservatives and the DUP won’t form a formal coalition government but the latter will support the government regardless.
“We want there to be a government. We have worked well with May. The alternative is intolerable. For as long as Corbyn leads Labour, we will ensure there’s a Tory PM,” a DUP source was cited as saying in by the Guardian.
The party is the creation of firebrand Protestant Evangelical Minister Ian Paisley. Reverend Paisley also founded the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster and was characterized by his entrenched Unionist views and his hostile opposition to the Catholic Church.
In its early years, the party was heavily involved in a campaign against homosexuality and fiercely opposed gay rights.
Paisley, who was famed for his extraordinarily fiery speeches, routinely preached against homosexuality and the party picketed gay rights events as part of their ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign.
The campaign was ultimately unsuccessful as homosexuality was decriminalized in 1982.
Paisley became infamous in 1988 when, as a member of the European Parliament for Northern Ireland, he caused uproar by interrupting an address by Pope John Paul II. During his protest he shouted: “I refuse you as Christ’s enemy and Antichrist with all your false doctrine,” while brandishing posters reading: “Pope John Paul II ANTICHRIST.”
The party has been the largest in Northern Ireland since the Stormont assembly election in 2007.
That election saw a greater polarization in Northern Ireland politics with the electorate shifting their votes towards the hardline Nationalist and Unionist parties (Sinn Fein and the DUP) at the expense of more moderate groups such as the the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).
At the age of 81 Paisley and the DUP gained worldwide praise for taking the astounding step of sharing power in the Northern Ireland government with bitter enemies Sinn Fein.
This arrangement was characterized by Paisley sharing the job of leading the government with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, who was once a leader in the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Paisley was succeeded as DUP leader and first minister by Peter Robinson. Robinson’s term was marred by a high profile scandal in which his wife, Iris Robinson, had an affair with a teenager and procured £50,000 in loans for the teen to open a restaurant.
She also failed to declare her interest in the restaurant, despite serving on the council which leased the premises to her lover. Before the scandal broke Iris Robinson had famously said that “gays are more vile than child abusers.”
She was expelled from the party as a result of the scandal and she retired from politics.
Similar views on homosexuality have been expressed by others in the deeply Christian party. Paisley’s son, Ian Jr, who is also a DUP politician, gained notoriety for saying he was “repulsed by gay and lesbianism.”
Peter Robinson himself came in for severe criticism for saying he “wouldn’t trust Muslims devoted to Sharia Law, but I would trust them to go to the shops for me,” and for backing a pastor who labelled Islam “satanic”.
Ahead of the election the party was backed by the Loyalist Communities Council, which is an umbrella body comprised of three of the main Loyalist Paramilitary groups, the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando. The party’s leader, Arlene Foster, was criticized for being slow to distance the DUP from the paramilitaries.
The DUP support for the Tories looks set to have implications for the Brexit negotiations. In the wake of last year’s Brexit vote, it campaigned against affording a “special status” for Northern Ireland after the UK leaves the EU. Sinn Fein, its ideological antithesis, has repeatedly called for special status.