Meet the tiny Irish party keeping Theresa May in power

June 9, 2017, 10:08am

In order to remain in power, Conservative party leader Theresa May on Friday struck a deal with a tiny Irish party which has links to paramilitary groups, count climate change deniers among its most prominent members, is anti same sex marriage and abortion, and has a sizeable portion of its membership who believe in young earth creationism.

May stood in front of 10 Downing Street on Friday and said that with her “friends and allies” in the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) she would form a government to help provide “certainty” to a country reeling from one of the biggest political upsets in living memory. By adding the 10 seats won by the DUP in Thursday’s election, the Conservatives will attain a majority of three in the House of Commons, allowing it to form a government.

The alliance is understood to be more of an agreement than a formal coalition, but because the Conservatives were left with little choice, the DUP is seen as wielding significant power in Westminster, way more than their 10 seats would typically entitle them to hold. The first concession the party was won is to ensure that Northern Ireland will not have some special status post-Brexit, meaning no deal which would see the country keep one foot in the EU — a move the unionists believe could be seen as a decoupling of Northern Ireland from the U.K.

A couple of hours after May’s statement, the DUP leader and Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster confirmed her party had started talks with the Conservatives about bringing “stability” to the U.K. A relative unknown in global political terms, the DUP now holds a crucial role in facilitating the establishment of a government ahead of crucial Brexit negotiations in 10 days time.

So, who are the DUP?

  • The DUP is the largest political party in the devolved Northern Ireland assembly and returning 10 MPs in Thursday’s vote is the group’s best-ever Westminster performance, making it the fifth-largest party in the House of Commons.
  • The party was founded in 1971 by firebrand preacher Ian Paisley, and just as Sinn Fein has very strong links to republican paramilitary groups, the DUP has strong, historical links to loyalist paramilitary groups. Indeed former leader Peter Robinson was an active member of the Ulster Resistance, a group which smuggled weapons into the U.K.
  • In recent years the party has changed radically, but it has maintained a number of hardline conservative views. Namely it is vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage and it has fought hard to stop U.K. abortion rights coming to Northern Ireland — forcing thousands of women to travel elsewhere to receive treatment.
  • While climate change denial is not a party policy, the DUP’s hierarchy does contain a number of members who espouse this view. Indeed the party previously appointed Sammy Wilson as environment secretary, a man who claimed climate change was a “con.” In response to the Tories deal with the DUP, James Orr, Friends of the Earth’s Northern Ireland director, said: “Their manifesto had hardly a positive word on the environment and nothing at all on climate change. Theresa May must not allow the DUP to further weaken her already inadequate manifesto commitments to maintain environmental protections and preserve nature.”
  • The DUP is also packed with creationists with many party members also members of the Caleb Foundation, which is one of the leading creationist pressure groups in Northern Ireland. A 2013 survey of DUP activists found that 40 percent of them believe in Young Earth creationism and want it taught in schools.
  • The party is currently in negotiations with Sinn Fein over the control of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been deadlocked since Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in January. His resigned over the Foster’s handling of a botched green energy scheme dubbed ‘Cash for Ash’ that is due to cost U.K. taxpayers over £1BN ($1.2BN).