Who are the DUP? Extreme social conservatives who have blocked gay marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland

Britain could be headed for an even more regressive government than the last


Theresa May has announced that she will form a government with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, meaning that the most regressive and socially conservative party in Britain is about to form part of its government.

This is the real coalition of chaos.

Lots of people won’t know much about the DUP, so here are a few of their worst policies in recent years.

Absolute opposition to abortion

The fact that women in Northern Ireland have no right to an abortion has a lot to do with the DUP. They have opposed any attempts to liberalise the law on reproductive rights, forcing thousands of Northern Irish women to travel for terminations elsewhere, or to rely on abortion pills bought online.

Blocking marriage equality

The Northern Irish assembly has repeatedly voted to allow same-sex couples to marry in recent years, but the DUP has used a veto mechanism to prevent any law coming into effect.

Cash for Ash

DUP leader Arlene Foster is mired in scandal in Northern Ireland, having overseen a government programme that spectacularly misused public funds. As environment minister, she introduced a renewable energy scheme that subsidised the use of pellet-burning biomass boilers for energy. Unfortunately, she neglected to put an upper limit on the pay-outs, leading to reports of farmers getting paid to heat empty sheds. The projected overspend was at least £400m.

Climate change denial

While climate change scepticism is not official party policy, the DUP did once appoint a denier as Northern Ireland environment minister, and it counts a number of creationists among its senior members. The party’s manifesto for this election made no mention of the environment or climate change.


Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the EU with a majority of 56 per cent to 44. The DUP was the only major party to back Leave, despite the obvious threats Brexit poses to the Northern Irish economy, the peace process and the border with the Republic of Ireland. In government, they would ally themselves with the hard Brexit wing of the Tory party.


May will be hoping that public ignorance of their policies and history will prevent any significant backlash. But progressives know that we are now facing an even more regressive government than the last one — and that it must be held to account at every turn.

Niamh Ni Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

10 Responses to “Who are the DUP? Extreme social conservatives who have blocked gay marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland”

  1. felicity de Zulueta

    Have you followed the news that DUP is involved in the ‘dark funding’ of Brexit which used facebook etc to influence the tory vote in Scotland and more: see Open Democracy.

  2. patrick newman

    Alasdair, your scenario is frightenly plausible and I dont like it! However Davidson’s strong pitch on staying in the EU would finally split the Tories and an election would deal with rebel Blairites just like it did with the Gang of Four.

  3. Peter Ó Donnghaile

    Niamh misses out another major area of DUP failure- and one in which Northern Ireland, thanks to DUP obstructionism is grossly out of step with the devolved administrations of the island of Britain. One of the Celtic Languages is indigenous to each and every one of the provinces of the United Kingdom. The Welsh Language and the rights of speakers to use it in communication with the state is protected in Wales, and in my experience is widely used in the workplace, at community events and in the home. The Gaelic language has been protected to some extent in Scotland by the Gaelic Language Act (Scotland) 2005, though the rights of speakers to use the language in formal situations are only being ceded gradually. Meanwhile In Northern Ireland in spite of the provisions for the Gaelic ( referred to as Irish) language and her speakers specifically mandated in the Good Friday agreement of 1998 there is no Northern Irish legislation to give effect to this. The “Britishness” of Ulster unionism and its willingness to replace alienation with inclusion can and should be measured by it’s delivery of a meaningful Gaelic Language (Northern Ireland) Act as it’s first priority.

  4. Dave

    The Labour’s sister part in N Ireland the SDLP also oppose changes to abortion laws in NI

  5. Is Theresa May Ignoring Progressive Voters? – Naked Politics

    […] When May claimed that she would “reflect on the results” of the election it seemed to suggest that she would consider the reasons the voter share lurched to the left. Instead, she opted to seek refuge in the barren landscape to the right of the Conservative party resulting in the arch-conservative, regressive Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)  becoming the unlikely power brokers in a weak and wobbly minority government. Opposition to the Abortion Act and to same-sex marriage are long off the Conservative agenda and yet those are the views of their potential partners in government. […]

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