Democratic Unionist Party

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This article is about the political party in Northern Ireland. For other uses, see Democratic Unionist Party (disambiguation).
Democratic Unionist Party
Leader Peter Robinson MLA
Chairman Lord Morrow MLA
Deputy Leader / Westminster Leader Nigel Dodds MP
Founded 30 September 1971
Preceded by Protestant Unionist Party
Headquarters 91 Dundela Avenue
Belfast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, UK
Ideology National conservatism[1]
Social conservatism[2]
British unionism
Political position Right-wing[4][5]
European affiliation None
European Parliament group Non-Inscrits
Colours Red, White and Blue
House of Commons
8 / 650
House of Lords
3 / 793
House of Commons
(NI Seats)
8 / 18
European Parliament
1 / 3
NI Assembly
38 / 108
Local Councils
130 / 462
Official website
Politics of Northern Ireland
Political parties

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is the larger of the two main unionist political parties in Northern Ireland. Founded by Ian Paisley and now led by Peter Robinson, it is the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the fourth-largest party in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.

The DUP has strong links to Protestant churches, particularly the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, the church Paisley founded. However, this influence has reduced under the Robinson leadership in an attempt to reach out to non-Protestants, particularly socially conservative Catholics.[6][7]

Following on from the St Andrews Agreement in October 2006, the DUP agreed with the Irish republican party Sinn Féin to enter into power-sharing devolved government in Northern Ireland. In the aftermath of the agreement there were reports of divisions within the DUP. Many of its leading members, including Members of Parliament (MPs) Nigel Dodds, David Simpson and Gregory Campbell, were claimed to be in opposition to Paisley. All the party's MPs fully signed up to the manifesto for the 2007 Assembly elections, supporting power-sharing in principle. An overwhelming majority of the party executive voted in favour of restoring devolution in a meeting in March 2007;[8] however, the DUP's sole Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Jim Allister,[9] and seven DUP councillors[10] later resigned from the party in opposition to its plans to share power with Sinn Féin. They founded the Traditional Unionist Voice in December 2007.[11]

The DUP is the largest party in Northern Ireland, holding eight seats at Westminster and 38 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It has one seat in the European Parliament, where its MEP, Diane Dodds, sits as a Non-Inscrit.


Early years and successes[edit]

The party was established in 1971 by Ian Paisley and Desmond Boal and other members of the Protestant Unionist Party. Since its foundation it has won seats at local council, Northern Ireland, UK and European level. It won eight seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly of 1973-1974, where it opposed the formation of a power-sharing executive made up of unionists and Irish nationalists following the Sunningdale Agreement. The DUP were more Ulster loyalist than the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). and its establishment arguably stemmed from insecurities of the Ulster Protestant working class.[12] Paisley was elected one of Northern Ireland's three European Parliament members at the first elections in 1979 and retained that seat in every European election until 2004. In 2004 Paisley was replaced as the DUP MEP by Jim Allister, who resigned from the party in 2007 while retaining his seat.[9]

The DUP also holds seats in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, and has been elected to each of the Northern Ireland conventions and assemblies set up since the party's creation. It has long been the principal rival to the other major unionist party, the UUP (known for a time in the 1970s and 1980s as the Official Unionist Party (OUP) to distinguish it from the then multitude of other unionist parties, some set up by deposed former leaders). The DUP's main opponent is Sinn Féin and its main rival for votes is Traditional Unionist Voice.


The DUP was involved in the negotiations under former United States Senator George J. Mitchell that led to the Good Friday Agreement. The party withdrew in protest when Sinn Féin, a republican party with ties to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), was allowed to participate despite the IRA retaining weapons. The DUP opposed the Agreement in the referendum that followed its signing, and which saw the Agreement approved reasonably comfortably nonetheless.

The 1998 Belfast Agreement was opposed by the Democratic Unionist Party. The opposition was based on a number of reasons, including:

  • The early release of paramilitary prisoners
  • The mechanism to allow Sinn Féin to hold Government office despite ongoing IRA activity.
  • The lack of accountability of Ministers within the Executive.
  • The lack of accountability of the North/South Ministerial Council and all-Ireland Implementation Bodies.

The Belfast Agreement relied on the support of a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalists in order for it to operate.[citation needed] During the 2003 Assembly Election, the DUP argued for a "fair deal" that could command the support of both unionists and nationalists. After the results of this election the DUP argued that support was no longer present within unionism for the Belfast Agreement. They then went on to publish their proposals for devolution in Ireland entitled Devolution Now.[13]

These proposals have been refined and re-stated in further policy documents including Moving on[14] and Facing Reality.[15]

The DUP has consistently held the view that any party which is linked to a terrorist organisation should not be eligible to hold Government office.[citation needed] The activities of the IRA and the other paramilitary groups have been monitored by the Independent Monitoring Commission.

The DUP fought the resulting election to the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly and took two seats in the multi-party power-sharing executive but while serving as ministers refused to sit in at meetings of the Executive Committee (cabinet) in protest at Sinn Féin's participation.[citation needed] The Executive ultimately collapsed over an alleged IRA espionage ring at Stormont. (See Stormontgate).

In the delayed Northern Ireland Assembly election of 2003, the DUP became the largest political party in the region, with 30 seats. In 2004, it became the largest Northern Ireland party at Westminster, with the defection of Jeffrey Donaldson. On 12 December 2004, English MP Andrew Hunter took the DUP whip, giving the party seven seats, in comparison to the UUP's five, Sinn Féin's four, and the SDLP's three.

Northern Ireland election seats 1997-2005.svg

In the 2005 general election, the party reinforced its position as the largest unionist party, winning nine seats, making it the fourth largest party in terms of seats in the British House of Commons behind Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. In terms of votes, the DUP is the fourth largest party on the island of Ireland.

At the Local Government election of 2005, the DUP also emerged as the largest party at Local Government level with 182 Councillors across Northern Ireland's 26 District Councils.[16] The DUP has a majority of the members on both Castlereagh Borough Council, which has long been a DUP stronghold and is home to Party Leader Peter Robinson, also in Ballymena Borough Council, home to the party's founder Ian Paisley, and finally Ards Borough Council. As well as outright control on these councils, the DUP is also the largest party in eight of the other Councils. These are Antrim Borough Council, Ballymoney Borough Council, Banbridge District Council, Belfast City Council, Carrickfergus Borough Council, Coleraine Borough Council, Craigavon Borough Council and Newtownabbey Borough Council

On 11 April 2006, it was announced that three DUP members were to be elevated to the House of Lords: Maurice Morrow, Wallace Browne, the former Lord Mayor of Belfast, and Eileen Paisley, a vice-president of the DUP and wife of DUP Leader Ian Paisley. None, however, sit as DUP peers.

On 27 October 2006, the DUP issued a four page letter in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper asking "Are the terms of Saint Andrew's a basis of moving forward to devolution?", with responses to be received to its party headquarters by 8 November. It was part of the party's overall direction of consultation with its electorate before entering a power-sharing assembly.[citation needed]

On 24 November 2006, Ian Paisley refused to nominate himself as First Minister of Northern Ireland designate. There was confusion between all parties whether he actually said that if Sinn Féin supported policing and the rule of law that he would nominate himself on 28 March 2007 after the Assembly elections on 7 March 2007. The Assembly meeting was brought to an abrupt end when they had to evacuate because of a security breach. Ian Paisley later released a statement through the press office stating that he did in fact imply that if Sinn Féin supported policing and the rule of law, he would go into power sharing with Sinn Féin. This was following a statement issued by 12 DUP MLAs stating that what Ian Paisley had said in the chamber could not be interpreted as a nomination.[17]

In February 2007, the DUP suggested that it would begin to impose fines up to £20,000 on members disobeying the party whip on crucial votes.[18]

On 24 March 2007 the DUP Party Executive overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution put to them by the Party Officers which did not agree to an establishment of devolution and an Executive in Northern Ireland by the Government's deadline of 26 March, but did agree to setting up an Executive on 8 May 2007.[8]

On 27 March 2007, the party's sole Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Jim Allister, resigned from the party, in opposition to the decision to enter power-sharing with Sinn Féin, he retained his seat as an Independent MEP as Leader of his new hard-line anti St Andrews Agreement splinter group that he formed with other disaffected members who had left the DUP over the issue, Traditional Unionist Voice, a seat which he retained until Diane Dodds won the seat back for the DUP in 2009. MP Gregory Campbell has warned on 6 April 2007 that his party will be watching to see if benefits flow from the party's agreement to share power with Sinn Féin.[19]

On 7 May 2007 the East Antrim MLA George Dawson died after a short battle against cancer. He was replaced by Alastair Ross, who had previously worked as a Parliamentary Researcher for the East Antrim MP and MLA Sammy Wilson.

Robinson leadership[edit]

On 31 May 2008 the party's central Executive Committee met at the offices of Castlereagh Borough Council where Ian Paisley formally stepped down as Party Leader and Peter Robinson was ratified as the new leader with Nigel Dodds as his deputy.

On 11 June 2008 the party supported the government's proposal to detain terror suspects for up to 42 days, leading to The Independent dubbing all of the party's nine MPs as part of "Brown's dirty dozen".[20] The Times reported that the party had been given "sweetners for Northern Ireland" and "a peerage for the Rev Ian Paisley", amongst other offers to secure Gordon Brown's bill.[21]

Members of the DUP were lambasted by the press and voters, after MPs' expenses reports were leaked to the media. Several newspapers referred to the "Swish Family Robinson" after party leader Peter Robinson, and his wife Iris, were to have claimed £571,939.41 in expenses with a further £150,000 being paid to family members.[22] Further embarrassment was caused to the party when its deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, had the highest expenses claims of any Northern Ireland MP, ranking 13th highest out of all UK MPs.[23] Details of all MPs' expenses claims since 2004 were published in July 2009 under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

In January 2010, Peter Robinson was at the centre of a high-profile scandal relating to his 60 year old MP/MLA wife Iris Robinson's [24] admitted infidelity with a 19 year old man, and alleged serious financial irregularities associated with the scandal.[25][26] It is thought the consequence of this scandal was the loss of his seat in the 2010 United Kingdom General Election to the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, through tactical voting by a discontent electorate.

Northern Ireland election seats 1997-2010.svg

In the 2010 General Election, the party suffered a major upset when its leader, Peter Robinson, lost his Belfast East seat to Naomi Long of the APNI on a swing of 22.9%. However, the party maintained its position elsewhere, fighting off a challenge from the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force in Antrim South and Strangford and from Jim Allister's TUV in Antrim North.

Party leadership[edit]

Northern Ireland Executive Ministers[edit]

Portfolio Name
First Minister Peter Robinson MLA
Junior Minister (First Minister Nominated) Jonathan Bell MLA
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Arlene Foster MLA
Health, Social Services & Public Safety Jim Wells MLA
Finance and Personnel Simon Hamilton MLA
Social Development Mervyn Storey MLA

Party spokespersons – Westminster[edit]

[citation needed]

Responsibility Spokesperson
Business, Innovation and Skills, Communities and Local Government, Education David Simpson MP
Cabinet Office, International Development Gregory Campbell MP MLA
Energy and Climate Change Jeffrey Donaldson MP
Health, Transport, Equality and Human Rights Jim Shannon MP
Parliamentary Group Leader, Reform and Constitutional Agenda/Issues, Foreign Affairs, Culture, Media and Sport Nigel Dodds MP
Treasury Sammy Wilson MP MLA
Shadow Leader of the House/House Issues, Justice and Home Affairs, Shadow Deputy Prime Minister William McCrea MP
Work and Pensions, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ian Paisley Jr MP

Party spokespersons – Assembly[edit]

Responsibility Spokesperson
Party Leader Peter Robinson MLA[27]
Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds MP MLA[28]
Agriculture Paul Frew MLA[29]
Children and Young People Michelle McIlveen MLA[30]
Culture, Arts and Leisure Gregory Campbell MLA MP[31]
Education Michelle McIlveen MLA
Employment and Learning Thomas Buchanan MLA
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Peter Weir MLA
Environment Alastair Ross MLA
Health Jim Wells MLA
Justice, Press Officer Ian Paisley, Jr MP
Social Development Simon Hamilton MLA


Parliament of the United Kingdom[edit]

Members of the House of Commons:

Members of the House of Lords:

Northern Ireland Assembly[edit]

Members of the 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly:

European Parliament[edit]

Members elected in 2014


Peter Robinson, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party since 2008

Founder Ian Paisley led the party from its foundation in 1971 onwards, and retired as leader of the party in spring 2008.

Paisley was replaced by former deputy leader Peter Robinson on 31 May 2008.

Ian Paisley in July 2010 became a member of the House of Lords and was given the title 'Lord Bannside'.

Party leader[edit]

The following are the terms of office as party leader and as First Minister of Northern Ireland:

Leader Period Constituency Years as First Minister
Ian Paisley 1971–2008 MP for Bannside (1970–72)
MP for North Antrim (1970–2010)
MEP for Northern Ireland (1979–2004)
MLA for North Antrim (1998–2011)
(Executive of the 3rd Assembly)
Peter Robinson 2008–present MP for Belfast East (1979–2010)
MLA for Belfast East (1998–present)
(Executive of the 3rd and 4th Assembly)

Deputy leader[edit]

Name Period Constituency
William Beattie 1971–1980 MP for South Antrim (1970–72)
Peter Robinson 1980–2008 MP for Belfast East (1979–2010)
MLA for Belfast East (1998–present)
Nigel Dodds 2008–present MLA for Belfast North (1998–2010)
MP for Belfast North (2001–present)

Westminister leader[edit]

Name Period Constituency
Ian Paisley 1974–2010 North Antrim
Nigel Dodds 2010–present Belfast North

General election results[edit]

Election House of Commons Share of votes Seats +/-
1974 (Feb) 46th 5.7%
1 / 12
Increase 1
1974 (Oct) 47th 5.8%
1 / 12
1979 48th 10.2%
3 / 12
Increase 2
1983 49th 19.9%
3 / 17
1987 50th 11.7%
3 / 17
1992 51st 13.1%
3 / 17
1997 52nd 13.6%
2 / 18
Decrease 1
2001 53rd 22.5%
5 / 18
Increase 3
2005 54th 33.7%
9 / 18
Increase 4
2010 55th 25.0%
8 / 18
Decrease 1

Northern Ireland Assembly election Results[edit]

Election Northern Ireland Assembly Total Votes Share of votes Seats +/-
1973 1973 Assembly 78,228 10.8%
8 / 78
Increase 8
1975 Constitutional Convention 97,073 14.8%
12 / 78
Increase 4
1982 1982 Assembly 145,528 23.0%
21 / 78
Increase 9
1996 Forum 141,413 18.8%
24 / 110
Increase 24
1998 1st Assembly 145,917 18.5%
20 / 108
Decrease 4
2003 2nd Assembly 177,944 25.7%
30 / 108
Increase 10
2007 3rd Assembly 207,721 30.1%
36 / 108
Increase 6
2011 4th Assembly 198,436 30%
38 / 108
Increase 2

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Northern Ireland/UK, Parties and Elections in Europe
  2. ^ Ruth Marcus, "Gender aside, the fall of Irish politician Iris Robinson is the same old sex scandal", Washington Post, 14 January 2010
  3. ^ Taggart, Paul; Szczerbiak, Aleks. "The Party Politics of Euroscepticism in EU Member and Candidate States". SEI Working Paper 51. Sussex European Institute. p. 11. 
  4. ^ Kimberly Cowell-Meyers, "Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Encyclopaedia Britannica
  5. ^ Ian Paisley, Limping Towards the Sunrise
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b "DUP 'would share power in May'". BBC News Online (BBC). 24 March 2007. Retrieved 7 April 2007. 
  9. ^ a b "Allister quits power-sharing DUP". BBC News Online (BBC). 27 March 2007. Retrieved 27 March 2007. 
  10. ^ "Seventh councillor leaves the DUP". BBC News Online (BBC). 5 April 2007. Retrieved 7 April 2007. 
  11. ^ "New unionist group to be launched". BBC News. 
  12. ^ Beyond the Sectarian Divide: the Social Bases and Political Consequences of Nationalist and Unionist Party Competition in Ireland by Geoffrey Evans and Mary Duffy. In British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 27, No. 1. (Jan. 1997), p.58
  13. ^ Dr Martin Melaugh. "CAIN: Issues: Politics: Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) (2004) Devolution Now: The DUP's Concept for Devolution, 5 February 2004". Retrieved 18 June 2010. 
  14. ^ Moving On, Democratic Unionist Party Archived 13 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Facing Reality, Democratic Unionist Party Archived 13 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "2005 Local Government Election Results". Northern Ireland Elections. ARK. 
  17. ^ "Paisley 'will accept nomination'". BBC News. 
  18. ^ Sunday Times, page 1.10, 4 February 2007
  19. ^ "Agreement must bring benefits, Congressmen are told". Noel McAdam (Belfast Telegraph). 6 April 2007. Retrieved 6 April 2007. 
  20. ^ "Twelve good folk and true... or Brown's dirty dozen?". The Independent (London). 15 June 2008. Retrieved 1 April 2010. 
  21. ^ Sharrock, David; Coates, Sam (12 June 2008). "42day detention bribes and concessions that got DUP on side". The Times (London). Retrieved 1 April 2010. 
  22. ^ Lucy Ballinger (6 April 2009). "MP couple taking more than £570,000 from taxpayer in salaries and expenses | Mail Online". London: Retrieved 18 June 2010. 
  23. ^ "Dodds' expenses bill NI's highest". BBC News. 
  24. ^ Northern Ireland Assembly Information Office (1 April 2008). "Biography - Iris Robinson". Retrieved 18 June 2010. 
  25. ^ O'Doherty, Malachi (8 January 2010). "The real Robinson affair". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 1 April 2010. 
  26. ^ "Tatchell: Robinson is 'two-faced hypocrite' / World / Home - Morning Star". 8 January 2010. Retrieved 18 June 2010. 
  27. ^ Peter Robinson, DUP site
  28. ^ Nigel Dodds, DUP site
  29. ^ Paul Frew, DUP site
  30. ^ Michelle McIlveen, DUP site
  31. ^ Gregory Campbell, DUP site
  32. ^ "Givan to take up Donaldson's role". Belfast Telegraph. 11 June 2010. Retrieved 18 June 2010. 

External links[edit]