A More Definitive guide to the DUP

It is general knowledge that there are two broad groups in Northern Ireland, the Protestant /Unionist /Loyalist (PUL) community and the Catholic /Nationalist /Republican (CNR) community. Historically  the PUL community has been the majority and the CNR community the minority, but they are now getting very close to par. Nationalists tend to see themselves as Irish, Unionists as British, though there is also a separate Northern Irish Identity which is more mixed (2011 census). Loyalists and Republicans are more extreme versions, who in the past have considered the use of force to defend their corner as totally legitimate.

Neither the PUL or CNR block is in any way homogeneous, however the PUL community is easily separable into two strands. The first is largely made up of Church of Ireland protestants who are largely of English descent, many who have been traditionally the professionals and at the richer end “Big House Unionists” and are old aristocracy and historically voted for the Ulster Unionist Party the UUP. The second is largely Presbyterian and historically of Scottish descent, who tend to be smaller farmers, trades people and working class and voted for the UUP till the start of the troubles, but the DUP in increasing numbers since its foundation in 1971.  At the time of the formation of  NI in 1921, the three groups, Catholic, Church of Ireland and Presbyterian each consisted of approximately 1/3 each of the population.

In 1968 at the start of the troubles the PUL community was fairly monolithic, both strands benefiting from the Apartheid  regime that was in existence in NI, where Catholics were treated as second class citizens. That has not always been the case. In the 18th century both Catholics and Presbyterians were treated as 2nd class citizens under the Penal Laws and, in 1798,  both  communities joined forces in the United Irishmen rebellion. The rebellion failed as success was contingent on the arrival of a French army; the English just as at the time of the Spanish Armada were saved by the weather.

The founding of the DUP is down to one very influential figure, the Rev Ian Paisley. In 1968 starting with the civil rights movement it was clear that the old regime in which Catholics were treated as second class citizens was untenable. Paisley was convinced however that the Pope was the Anti-Christ, that Catholics would burn in hell the moment they died and the true Protestant religion and the very existence of NI was under threat. He vowed “not an inch” and the DUP has fought ever concession to the CNR community tooth and nail. This has clearly been a very successful strategy as initially the DUP was much smaller than the UUP, but swept the board in GE2017 in terms of PUL votes (apart from one independent Unionist).


His thoughts on the EU (the “final manifestation” of the evil Roman Empire, the kingdom of the anti-Christ) will give some flavour of his rhetoric.
In 1975

I have found in this Common Market struggle the intense hatred of pro-Marketeers for the true Protestantism of God’s Word. . . . If you stand up and say, for religious reasons, you are against the Common Market, then you are branded as a bigot. You are branded as a traitor. You are branded as an extremist. . . . And I want to tell you that we are moving into a time of religious persecution, when these nations of Europe are going to insist on one church; one church for Europe and that church will be the Roman Catholic Church.

And in 2000

Knowing the Bible should make us realise that it is pure folly to want to join (via ecumenism) this final apostasy of Babylon which is Biblically and historically wrong. Rome is unchanging, unrepentant and arrogant without change. People are striving for unity with this beast as though it was something required as a necessity in this life and for the next. Such folly when our gracious Lord brought us out of such bondage in the Sixteenth century. . . . What folly to return.

Not surprisingly, Paisley urged his followers to vote “no” in the 1975 EEC referendum: “I trust that every man and woman . . . across our Province will take their stand against what is nothing less than the kingdom of the Anti-christ.” Less colourful language was used in the 2016 Brexit Referendum but they were the only NI party of any substantial size to support Brexit.

In the early 1970’s things were spiraling out of control in NI and more sensible heads in the Protestant community believed that accommodation with Catholics was necessary. Paisley however resisted any attempt at compromise and started the DUP in 1971. His rallying cry was “No surrender. We will never bend the knee.” The DUP opposed both the Sunningdale Agreement (1973) and the Good Friday agreement (1998). It is rumoured that the DUP only agree to participate in the Government of NI when Blair threatened him with even greater influence from Dublin, up to and including a United Ireland. This resulted in the St Andrews Agreement (2006)  and the DUP joining with SF in the NI Assembly. I have never met Martin McGuinness but had the pleasure of meeting Paisley as a schoolboy in 1968 at Stormont. Paisley in person was very charming, had a good sense of humour and made our Dublin school group feel very welcome. For whatever reason Paisley made a real go of power-sharing and seemed to have a genuine chemistry with McGuinness. If anything the current DUP seem to have regressed. As they wield disproportional power at Westminster they are not that worried about the NI assembly, particularly as there is no longer a Unionist majority.

To understand the DUP it is necessary to understand its two core influences, the Free Presbyterian Church and the Orange Order. Whereas the DUP no longer is made up exclusively of Free Presbyterians, they are still a major influence particularly in the higher echelons of the party. About 1/3 of the members of the DUP are Free Presbyterians despite them only comprising 0.6% of the population of NI. The Orange Order (OO) also has and increasing influence on the DUP and again about 1/3 of the members of the DUP are in the OO.

The Free Presbyterian Church was formed in 1951 by Paisley after falling out with the Presbyterian Church. Doctrinally, the church describes itself as fundamentalist, evangelical, and separatist. This church provided the bedrock of the DUP when it was formed in 1971. It believes in creationism (Belfast museum faces legal battle over Darwin exhibition), denies the existence of climate change, Homophobia (Save Ulster from Sodomy), is very anti-abortion and of course has a hatred of the Catholic church. As previously stated they think Catholics are heretics who will burn in hell from the moment they die. Many of its beliefs seem out of place in the 21st century but of course were mainstream in the 17th century.

The Orange Order long precedes the DUP  (founded 1795) and is a conservative British unionist organisation with links to Ulster loyalism. The Order sees itself as defending Protestant civil and religious liberties, whilst critics accuse the Order of being sectarian, triumphalist, and supremacist. As a strict Protestant society, it does not accept non-Protestants as members unless they convert and adhere to the principles of Orangeism, nor does it accept Protestants married to Catholics. Orange marches through mainly Catholic and nationalist neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland are controversial and have often led to violence.

To add to this already toxic mix terrorist links and dark money needs to be added.

Terrorism is easy to characterise on the CNR side with the pIRA being by far the dominant group with direct links to Sinn Féin. On the PUL side it is far more murky with a number of terrorist groups, Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA)/Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), the Ulster Resistance Group (URG) and of course very murky links with the NI security forces.  The most visible direct DUP terrorist link is through the URG formed in 1986 which included Paisley, Robinson, Wilson and Dodds. The latter two are now in the thick of the action at Westminster, with Nigel Dodds being the DUP Westminster leader and Sammy Wilson the shadow Brexit spokeperson. The following year, Ulster Resistance joined forces with the two established loyalist paramilitary groups, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA), to smuggle an enormous arsenal of weapons into the province, including about 200 Czech-made assault rifles called VZ58s and tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition. Over the next 17 years, these VZ58s would be used in the murder or attempted murder of about 70 people in Northern Ireland. In the early 90s, they were used in three massacres: gunmen stood at the doors of a bookmaker’s shop and two bars, and simply sprayed the room. Nineteen people died and 27 were wounded.

The Dark Money connection is still being investigated. Suspicions were first raised when the DUP party paid for a wrap around  pro-Brexit full cover advert on the Metro newspaper (not circulated in NI)  two days before the Brexit referendum. As the DUP  declared expenditure of £58,183 on the 2015 general elections, and this clearly cost hundreds of thousands suspicions were raised.The NI funding rules dating to the Troubles allowed Northern Irish political parties to accept anonymous contributions, but these should have expired in 2014. It later emerged the ad cost £282,000  according to documents released by the Electoral Commission. The total declared DUP spend on the EU referendum campaign was £425,000 (more than seven times the GE2015 spends). After growing pressure to name the source of the money,  the little-known pro-union Constitutional Research Council (CRC) was named as the donor.  The DUP are also heavily involved in the Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ mess. Investigations are still ongoing with Open Democracy doing sterling work. The Tories blocked move to reveal donations to DUP in EU referendum; one has to ask why?

Insulting and belittling both the CNR community and the Government of the Irish Republic seems to be completely acceptable and indeed actively encouraged within the DUP. The rhetoric has probably been toned down since Paisley’s time when he stated of the Catholic community “They breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin” but more recent insults include Little Leo and that Indian to refer to the Taoiseach, and  Curry my Yogurt to refer to the Irish Language. Intemperate language towards Simon Coveney in particular seems to be all the rage (in both senses of the phrase).

From a progressive point of view is a strange mix, to say the least. As stated previously they have a 17th Century mindset and seem very out of place in the modern world. They get close to zero support from the CNR community which is getting close to par to the PUL community and will be an increasing majority over the next few decades. They do not represent the totality of the people of NI who were anti Brexit at the time of the Referendum and increasingly more so. Out of a total NI electorate of c1.3 M in the 2017GE only 292k people voted DUP (22.5% off the electorate but 36% of people who actually voted). Many younger Protestants do not vote DUP. Whereas they are largely Unionist in outlook, they find the social conservatism of the DUP very off putting. It is likely the ascendancy of the DUP will be short lived. Hopefully when the dust settles NI will get to become a happier place.


  1. Samuel Johnson -

    Many UK citizens are entirely ignorant of all this and of the Plantation of Ulster or much else of Britain’s blood soaked history on the neighbouring island. This is as good a summary of the politics as I’ve seen.

    I’ve encountered both Paisley and McGuinness, 40 or so years apart.

    Getting a train to Holyhead from Euston Station as a student I recognised Rev Ian approaching. He was carrying a small brown case. From it a pajama leg trailed after him, like a personal windsock. “Dr Paisley, your pajama leg” I said, gesturing, as he was about to pass (no doubt in a recognisable Irish voice).

    He puffed himself up, gave a passing glare, and bellowed


    It amused me to think of him slapping the case on the in his hostel later and discovering the presumed papist was not, in fact, mocking him but spoke truth. Perhaps this softened his heart to McGuinness later? (Just kidding)

    My reaction to McGuinness, close to the of his life, was a visceral understanding of how unionists feel about Sinn Féin. Call it a feeling down my spine. The hard men of SF were, in their day, as much of a threat to the republic as to NI. To me, it’s a self-inflicted tragedy that so many unionists see SF and the community in the 26 counties as the same. We have a lot in common (inc some of the shared struggle mentioned) with the border causing awful polarisation within NI and, though less so since the GFA, across it.

    The casual recklessness of the Tories in Ireland was illustrated again recently with the revelation that Caroline Noakes, minister for NI, hadn’t read the GFA. I’d wager she knows less of the politics than is outlined here. The stupidity and arrogance are both heartbreaking and infuriating, accompanied as they often are with gobsmacking condescension – – see for example the patronising nonsense from Steve Baker about customs spot checks for red diesel (skewered in yet another excellent post by Chris Gray http://chrisgreybrexitblog.blogspot.ie/2018/05/semi-digested-factoids-are-no.html).

  2. Sean Danaher -


    thanks. I thought it useful to put together something more about the DUP; I thought that going back to the plantation would make it overlong. Many of the Ulster Scots of course went to the USA well before the potato famine and did extremely well. Quite a few of the early US Presidents were of that heritage.

    I love your story of the pajama leg and suitcase and can still hear Paisley’s voice in my head in firebrand preacher mode!

    SF is deeply mistrusted by people of my generation in the Republic (over 60) but the younger post GFA generation seem much happier with them and to be fair the new leader Mary Lou McDonald seems impressive.

    I’ve never met any of the SF leadership, but was very impressed with John Hume when I met him – one of the few really great men in NI politics.

    I continue to despair about the almost wilful ignorance of the Tories who caused so much damage to Ireland through their power politics 100 years ago. As Edward Carson (One of Northern Ireland’s founding fathers) said of the Tories
    “What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power. And of all the men in my experience that I think are the most loathsome it is those who will sell their friends for the purpose of conciliating their enemies, and, perhaps, still worse, the men who climb up a ladder into power of which even I may have been part of a humble rung, and then, when they have got into power, kick the ladder away without any concern for the pain, or injury, or mischief, or damage that they do to those who have helped them to gain power.”

    Maybe Bevan was right when he called the Tories “lower than vermin … But I warn you they have not changed, or if they have they are slightly worse than they were. “

    It is an irony that SF are probably the greatest impediment to a United Ireland and the DUP the greatest driver,

    1. Peter May -

      It is indeed..
      But was Paisley really so enamoured of Adams as it appeared?

      1. Sean Danaher -

        I don’t know about the interaction between Adams and Paisley. My understanding was that Adam was focusing on increasing SF support in the Republic and spent little time with Paisley.

        Regarding McGuinness I understand they were both teetotal, shared a love or cricket (very surprising in Mcguinness’s case) an fly fishing. Both were very conservative Christians. Paisley famously used to smell interviewers breaths and refuse to cooperate if they had been drinking. (I’d have been useless – would have needed a few unit before talking to him!)

        What for me has always been the greatest tragedy in NI is that both communities have far more in common with each other than either those in the Republic or Britain. But some say family feuds or civil wars are always the most vicious,

  3. Andy Crow -

    Another v.interesting and informative piece, Sean, which is very welcome.

    Only nitpick is a typo ‘Open Democracy doing Stirling work’. Should read ‘sterling’, as in sterling silver. And probably doesn’t merit an initial capital. ‘Stirling’ is a place in Scotland.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Good University in Stirling I have worked with some of their excellent graduates
      Will correct

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