Since the Conservative party’s failure to acquire a working majority in the House of Commons, the Democratic Unionist party of Northern Ireland have been at the forefront of discussions regarding the future of British politics. Through seemingly holding the key to the continuation of the Conservatives agenda, the DUP have been able to acquire an unprecedented £1 billion in additional funding for Northern Ireland despite warranted protestation from Wales and Scotland as well as accusations of threatening the continuation of the Good Friday Agreement. While there has been much coverage of the DUP’s policies and beliefs shown in their 2017 electoral manifesto, this article has identified four key facts about the DUP which have been overlooked by mainstream media. The facts identified seemingly infer that historically the DUP have been continually linked to Ulster Loyalist paramilitary groups, therefore questioning their suitability for a case by case allegiance with the Conservative party.
- DUP was founded by a protestant fundamentalist preacher
Ian Paisley founded the DUP in 1971 after forging a successful and influential career as a protestant evangelical minister. Using this influence, Paisley involved himself in ulster unionist/loyalist politics and eventually become identifiable as the face of hard-line unionism which opposed any effort at power sharing between the unionist and Irish nationals. In this sense, Paisley rejected the principles of peace outlined in the Good Friday Agreement and in fact attempted to form a loyalist union militia out of reaction to the beginning of the Northern Irish peace process. Notably, Paisley’s extremist views were also evident within his sermons which were frequently anti-Catholicism, anti-ecumenism and in particular anti-homosexuality. The anti-homosexuality sentiment seen within Paisley’s religious and political views culminated in the formation of the ‘save ulster from sodomy’ campaign in 1977. The campaign headed by Paisley was formed in opposition to the Northern Ireland campaign for homosexual law reform and regularly involved picketing gay rights events whilst also denouncing homosexuality as a crime against god which would inevitably lead to the total demoralisation of society, an opinion Paisley held onto throughout his political career. Although, it is worth noting that Paisley’s views did become more progressive in a political sense, as seen through his acceptance of the St. Andrews agreement in 2007 which ensured shared power between the DUP and the Republican Sinn Fein.
- In 2017 the DUP was endorsed by the Loyalist Committees Council whose members include groups proscribed under the Terrorist Act 2000
In the build, up to the 2017 General Election the DUP received endorsement by the Loyalist Committee’s Council who are regarded as an umbrella collective of loyalist paramilitary groups which have been labelled as being engaged in terrorist activities. Notable groups within the DCC are the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Red hand committee who all were charged with engaging in politically motivated guerrilla terrorist attacks including murder during the troubles for the purposes of conserving the union. Unsurprisingly, resulting from the committee’s links with domestic terrorism, the DUP’s leader Arlene Foster rejected the endorsement and cited the party’s fundamental objection to support from groups involved in paramilitarism and criminality.
On the other hand, despite this, the support given to the DUP from the Loyalist Committee Council is reflective of the party’s historical ties with far-right extremism. After all, as previously noted the DUP’s founder Ian Paisley was seen as a leading figure in the resistance to the peace process in Northern Ireland and even tried to form his own paramilitary group. In this sense, one can conclude that despite the rejection by the modern DUP, support and ties with right wing extremism is continually evident throughout the party’s history.
- The DUP support the Orange order
The DUP has historically been a member of and voiced their support for the Orange order organisation. The Orange order organisation was formed in 1795 as an international protestant fraternal organisation which is primarily based in Northern Ireland. The Orange order was founded with the sole aim of protecting and furthering global Protestantism through the defence of civil and religious liberties including being anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality. Furthermore, due to their fundamental protestant standing, the Orange order do not accept non-protestant members unless they convert and maintain protestant values, as a consequence critics of the order have accused it of being sectarian, triumphalist and supremacist. The sentiment of superiority and supremacy within society from the Orange order frequently results in divisions within society and also infers that the policies of the DUP will favour protestants over Catholics. A claim further supported when one considers that the sermons of the DUP’s founder Ian Paisley were frequently anti-Catholic and anti-ecumenism.
Equally, critics assert that the Orange order also supports loyalist paramilitary groups such as the UVA, thus proving the legitimacy of the claim that the DUP has ties to far-right extremism in Northern Ireland. Worryingly, the Orange order is seemingly deliberately provoking violence and religious hatred within society by conducting pro-protestant marches through known Catholic and nationalist neighbourhoods. Therefore, the DUP’s suitability for the role it currently holds in British politics is incredibly questionable given its close relationship with an organisation which is intentionally inciting violence in Northern Irish society.
- Arlene Foster oversaw the Renewable Heat initiative which collapsed over claims of corruption and overspending.
The failure of the Renewable Heat initiative and the political fall-out which followed has arguably been the greatest controversy in Northern Irish politics in the last five years. Overseen by now DUP leader Arlene Foster in her role as Minister for enterprise, trade and investment, the renewable heat initiative was designed to pay applicants to use renewable energy instead of more environmentally harmful fuels, however the rate paid was more than the cost of heating, meaning that the applicant was constantly making a profit. In fact, the lack of proper cost control and knowledge of the price of energy is projected to cost the tax payers roughly £500 million. However, despite being in charge and thus holding clear culpability, DUP leader Arlene Foster refused to stand down during the allegations on the basis that doing so would admit guilt. Consequently, Sinn Fein leader and deputy minister of the Northern Irish assembly Martin McGuiness resigned in protest to Foster’s stubbornness and determination to remain as DUP party leader and minister of the Northern Irish assembly. In this sense, Foster’s inability to admit her guilt for the renewable heat initiative controversy threw the balance of Northern Irish politics into turmoil.
Notably, Fosters replacement as minister for enterprise, trade and investment Jonathan Bell claimed he was pressured and forced by the DUP to keep the renewable heat initiative operational despite its clear faults. Intriguingly, Bell’s outspokenness resulted in him being suspended from the DUP, thus implying there is a need for conformity within the party and that differing opinions on policy are not welcomed. In the end, the political fall-out and resignation of key members of the Northern Irish Assembly lead to a snap election being called on March 2nd 2017, in which the DUP registered a catastrophic set of results and lost 10 MLA’s which placed the party only one seat ahead of Sinn Fein as Northern Ireland’s dominant party.
To conclude, the article has shown that the DUP’s history has been continuously dogged by controversy and links to far-right Northern Irish extremism. Therefore, one must truly question whether the DUP is the best party for the Conservatives to enter a case by case agreement with. Despite this, the reality is that the DUP are now a vital aspect of British politics and will remain so regardless of their questionable views and history.
By Jonathan Evans