Election results 2017: Who are the DUP?

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DUP leader Arlene Foster and DUP deputy leader Nigel DoddsImage source, Charles McQuillan
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The DUP had a good night in Northern Ireland, securing two more MPs.

The Conservatives lost their overall majority in the general election and Prime Minister Theresa May is now dependent on seeking alliances with parties to get the 326 votes she needs to pass legislation in a hung Parliament.

Theresa May has already said that she will form a government with the support of Northern Irish party the Democratic Unionists (DUP).

The DUP have the crucial 10 extra seats needed by the Tories to govern, and as a result will wield a lot of influence in the new administration.

Party leader Arlene Foster will meet the prime minister on Tuesday, and she has already said she will be seeking a better deal for Northern Ireland.

It is not clear what shape the proposed Tory/DUP alliance will take, but Ms Foster confirmed it is not going to be a formal coalition.

On Friday morning, the DUP was one of the most searched terms on Google - so what do they stand for?

Basically, they are pro-union (UK, not Europe), pro-Brexit and socially conservative.

The party is now the fifth largest in Parliament; its 36% share of the vote in Northern Ireland resulted in 10 MPs being returned to Westminster, but it wasn't always so popular.

Hardline unionism

It started as a one-man-band, with Rev Ian Paisley, a fundamentalist Protestant preacher, at its helm. He founded the party in 1971 in opposition to what he saw as the increasingly liberal approach of the Ulster Unionists; the party of the political establishment since the state was founded in 1921.

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The Democratic Unionist Party moved from a hard-line fringe unionist party in the 1970s, led by Ian Paisley, to Northern Ireland's biggest party

Unlike nationalists, who want to see the Irish border removed and rule from Westminster ended, unionists want the link with Britain preserved. For most of his political career, Ian Paisley saw the prospect of devolved power sharing with his political enemies as a Trojan Horse to Irish unity.

He set his face against successive attempts to cobble together an agreement between nationalists and unionists, knowing that simply by saying no he could make political gains. And so it was that by 2005 the Democratic Unionist Party, which started as the party of resistance to any hint of accommodation, displaced the ruling class of the Ulster Unionists as the party which could legitimately claim to speak for all of unionism.

Power sharing with Sinn Fein followed in 2007 and, until recently, the DUP had a reputation for fiscal prudence and deft political strategising.

Image source, Reuters
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Ian Paisley became unlikely friends with former IRA commander and Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness

When Ian Paisley became first minister in Stormont - Northern Ireland's seat of government - with Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness acting as deputy first minister, the two of them got on so well that they were nicknamed the "chuckle brothers". But all of that seems like a distant memory.

The party remained electorally dominant under its next leader Peter Robinson, but relations between nationalists and unionists in the country's fragile power-sharing executive began to cool.

After Mr Robinson lost his Westminster seat in the 2010 general election, Mrs Foster took over as party leader in December 2015, and first minister in 2016.

Her leadership has been sullied by controversy over the Renewable Heat Incentive Deal, which saw the power-sharing executive collapse in 2017, causing a snap election in Stormont.

Northern Ireland is still without a government but the DUP has found itself in a position to influence political events across the entire United Kingdom, and that has led to scrutiny of some of the party's policies.

Social issues

The party may be less overtly religious than it was in the days when Rev Paisley was in charge, but on social issues it is still deeply conservative. It opposes same-sex marriage and is anti-abortion - abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, except in specific medical cases.

Image source, @jonsnowC4
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Broadcaster Jon Snow makes his feelings about the deal known on Twitter
Image source, @paul_johnson
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Paul Johnson is deputy editor of the Guardian - the DUP's controversial views are gaining a lot of attention everywhere, not just in the left-leaning press

DUP East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, a devout climate change denier, was once Northern Ireland's environment minister.

Mervyn Storey, the party's former education spokesman, once called for creationism - the belief that human life did not evolve over millions of years but was created by God - to be taught alongside evolution in science classes.

He has also objected to an exhibition on evolution in the Ulster Museum and signs at the Giant's Causeway in his North Antrim constituency.

Sir Elton John

Then there's the party's historical links to loyalist paramilitaries.

During this general election campaign, the DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly received the endorsement of the three biggest loyalist paramilitary organisations.

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The DUP: Partners in government

Although the DUP said it did not accept their support, in her acceptance speech, Mrs Little-Pengelly thanked those who came out to vote for her, singling out several loyalist working class areas in Belfast.

In December, the DUP's Trevor Clarke was criticised by Sir Elton John after the politician admitted he did not know heterosexual people could contract HIV until a charity explained the facts to him.

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A new frontier? The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

The DUP was a wholehearted supporter of Brexit and got heavily involved in the Leave campaign.

After Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland becomes an EU frontier and the DUP is not in favour of a so-called hard border. This means no checkpoints or intrusive enforcement.

So no hard border but in the round, the party's vision of Brexit is a fairly hard one - it was the most Eurosceptic party in the UK before the ascent of UKIP.

The party also wants to leave the EU customs union - their manifesto says there should be "progress on new free trade deals with the rest of the world" - and end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, ensuring that in future British law is supreme.

One red line is the idea of Northern Ireland being granted some sort of "special status" when Brexit comes to pass - the DUP will not stand for any arrangement that physically sets the region apart from anywhere else in the UK.

Its 2017 manifesto set out its position on Brexit and other issues, including:

  • Further increases to the personal tax allowance - similar to Conservative Party policy
  • Continued rises in the national living wage - similar
  • Renew Trident - similar
  • Revisit terrorism laws - similar
  • Abolish air passenger duty - different from the Conservatives
  • Cut VAT for tourism businesses - different
  • Call for "triple lock" on pensions - different

Its key slogan during the campaign turned out to be rather prescient: "A vote for the DUP team is a vote to send 'Team Northern Ireland' to Westminster. It is a team that has real influence".

Image source, EPA
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Theresa May literally bumped into Arlene Foster at an agricultural show while the PM was on the campaign trail in Northern Ireland

Ahead of the election, Northern Ireland's largest party made clear its preference was for a Conservative rather than Labour government.

The DUP's most senior MPs, including its Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, have been consistently critical of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, particularly for his past links with Sinn Féin and his stance on security issues.

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