Former DUP leader Peter Robinson (left) in paramilitary uniform, 1986.
The Democratic Unionist Party now look like the Tories preferred coalition partners. The DUP, which is the biggest Unionist (ie pro-UK) party in Northern Ireland, are often treated as though they are just the same as the other Unionist party they have essentially replaced – the Ulster Unionists. But while the UUP have a long running relationship with the Tories, and are a centre right party, the DUP are another thing entirely. The idea that they are near power in Westminster should worry us all. Here are some things you need to know.
Theresa May's new partners in government have strong historical links with Loyalist paramilitary groups. Specifically, the terrorist group Ulster Resistance was founded by a collection of people who went on to be prominent DUP politicians. Peter Robinson, for example, who was DUP leader and Northern Ireland’s first minister until last year, was an active member of Ulster Resistance. One of the things the group did was collaborate with other terrorist organisations such as the Ulster Volunteer Force to smuggle arms into the UK, including RPG rocket launchers.
Of course, Northern Ireland has moved towards peace, and the DUP, like their opponents in Sinn Fein, have rescinded violence. As part of that normalisation, the fact that parties which include people who have abandoned civil war can be brought into the democratic process is a good thing. But for the Tories to end an election campaign which they spent attacking Corbyn for his alleged links to former Northern Irish terrorists by going into coalition with a party founded by former Northern Irish terrorists would be a deep irony.
It’s also important to know their politics. When Enoch Powell was expelled from the Tory party after his fascist turn, he moved to Northern Ireland. There, his campaign manager was a young man named Jeffrey Donaldson, who says on his website:
“I worked alongside two of the greatest names in Unionism in the 20th century. Between 1982 and 1984 I worked as Enoch Powell’s constituency agent, successfully spearheading Mr. Powell’s election campaigns of 1983 and 1986 when the South Down seat was retained despite the fact the constituency contained a natural ‘nationalist’ majority.”
Donaldson is now the longest serving of the DUP’s MPs.
The DUP also fights hard against women’s right to choose to have an abortion, making them the biggest pro-forced pregnancy party in the UK. The results in Northern Ireland are utterly grim for the many women each year who need an abortion.
Despite being climate change deniers, they used their role in government in Northern Ireland to set up a subsidy scheme for biofuels, which gave those who bought into it more money than they had to pay out. The Northern Irish exchequer ended up paying out around half a billion pounds to those who knew about the scheme, leading to a scandal known as ‘cash for ash’, and a major investigation into whether DUP staff and supporters personally benefitted.
The DUP have fought to stop equal marriage, making Northern Ireland the only part of this archipelago without equal relationship rights. Last year, DUP MP Sammy Wilson was caught up in a scandal when a member of the public said that Northern Ireland ought to “get the ethnics out”, and he appeared to reply “you are absolutely right”.
The party backed Brexit, and as openDemocracy exposed earlier in the year, accepted a donation of £435,000 to pay for campaign materials across the UK. Under pressure, they admitted that the cash came from a shady group called the Constitutional Research Council, which is chaired by Scottish Tory Richard Cook. openDemocracy research showed that Cook founded a company in 2013 with the former head of the Saudi intelligence service, and a man who admitted to us that he was involved in a notorious incident in which hundreds of Kalashnikovs were flown to Hindu terrorists in West Bengal in 1995.
The DUP told us that the Constitutional Research Council’s chair’s surprising links with Saudi intelligence “aren’t a problem for us”.
We don’t know what the DUP will demand from the Tories in exchange for supporting them – perhaps just more cash for Northern Ireland, which would be no bad thing. But the idea of a government involving the DUP should worry us all, and the failure to ask any questions about their involvement during the BBC’s coverage last night was fairly astonishing.
You can donate to our investigations into the DUP here.