Before yesterday's general election results started coming in, many of us knew very little about the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). But because of the 10 seats the DUP won in GE17, the Northern Irish party now finds itself wielding a significant amount of power. If the Conservatives are to overcome the hung parliament and form a viable government, it's this group of super-socially conservative politicians they'll need to woo. So here’s a handy primer on the DUP, the party whose hands Theresa May will have to hold if she wants to remain PM.
The DUP on Women:
The DUP's leader, Arlene Foster, is the first woman to have been appointed First Minister of Northern Ireland, a position she held from January 2016 to January 2017. In the wake of the so-called "cash for ash" scandal, in which fundamental flaws were exposed in a renewable energy scheme she'd set up, critics called for Foster to step down as First Minister. She claimed this outcry was "misogynistic", but critics said this was a hollow and opportunistic argument from Foster, who has done little to advance women's rights in Northern Ireland. In the province, abortion remains a criminal offence unless a woman's health is in grave danger, and Foster's DUP has campaigned hard to prevent any reform of the law. Last year Foster told The Guardian: "I would not want abortion to be as freely available here as it is in England and don’t support the extension of the 1967 act." This means that, in Northern Ireland in 2017, even a woman who becomes pregnant through rape cannot have a legal abortion. Foster's DUP is also in favour of criminalising sex workers, another policy which in practice has an adverse effect on women.
Foster's personal attitudes towards women were also called into question last month. When she was asked for her thoughts on Michelle O'Neill, leader of rival party Sinn Féin, Foster described her as "blonde." Pressed to expand on this comment, Foster added: "Michelle is very attractive. She presents herself very well and she always is – you know – her appearance is always very 'the same'. You never see her without her makeup. You never see her without her hair 'perfect'."
The DUP on LGBT rights:
Northern Ireland is the only area of the UK where equal marriage hasn't been introduced, and the DUP is committed to ensuring this doesn't change. At the moment, they're using a controversial veto mechanism in the province's political system to block the introduction of equal marriage. As recently as April, a former DUP minister said that the party has drawn a "red line" on the issue that it isn't prepared to cross. The party's past record on LGBT rights is even more reprehensible. In the '70s, the DUP tried unsuccessfully to prevent the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland by running a campaign called "Save Ulster from Sodomy". And just last year, DUP politician Trevor Clarke admitted that he thought only gay and bisexual people could contract HIV.
The DUP on the Environment:
The DUP's election manifesto doesn't even include the word "environment" and the party once appointed a climate change denier, Sammy Wilson, as Northern Ireland's Environment Minister. In 2008, Wilson predicted that in 20 years' time, governments will look back and feel as though they were "conned" into spending money to halt climate change.
The DUP on Brexit:
The DUP backed the leave campaign in the run-up to last year's EU referendum, but the party now wants to secure an open border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, so the party is not supporting a 'soft' Brexit. According to the Independent, Arlene Foster has said: "No-one wants to see a ‘hard’ Brexit, what we want to see is a workable plan to leave the European Union, and that’s what the national vote was about – therefore we need to get on with that. However, we need to do it in a way that respects the specific circumstances of Northern Ireland, and, of course, our shared history and geography with the Republic of Ireland."
The DUP in short:
This isn't a party that believes in liberalism or any kind of progressive values. Its founder, Ian Paisley, once said: "Line dancing is as sinful as any other type of dancing, with its sexual gestures and touching. It is an incitement to lust."