The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is the larger of the two main unionist political parties in Northern Ireland. Founded by Ian Paisley and currently led by Peter Robinson, it is currently 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 Ian Paisley founded, and is considered a Protestant political party.

Following on from the St Andrews Agreement in October 2006, the DUP has 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; however, the DUP's sole Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Jim Allister, and seven DUP councillors 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.

The DUP is the largest party in Northern Ireland, currently holding 8 seats at Westminster and 36 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It has one seat in the European Parlia-ment, where its MEP, Diane Dodds, sits as a Non-Inscrit.

History:

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, province, national 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 nationalists following the Sunningdale Agreement. The DUP were more radically unionist than the UUP. The establishment of this political party arguably stemmed from insecurities of the Protestant working class. 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.
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 Ulster Unionist Party (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). However, the DUP's main rivals are currently the Irish Republican Sinn Féin and the Irish nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

The DUP was originally involved in the negotiations under former United States Senator George J. Mitchell that led to the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement on account of the day on which it was signed). 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 DUP fought the resulting election to the Northern Ireland 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. The Executive ultimately collapsed over an alleged IRA espionage ring at Stormont.

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 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.

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.

When this is compared to the Ireland local government elections (held on the same day as the Westminister General Election but under proportional representation), then the final figures would indicate that, had the Westminster General Election been on a Proportional Representation basis instead of the First-past-the-post system, the DUP would only have had six seats and the UUP and Sinn Féin four seats each. The SDLP would still have its three seats but there would have been another seat for an independent.

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 Coun-cils. The DUP currently 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 the question "Are the terms of Saint Andrew's a basis of moving forward to devolution?", with responses to be received to its party headquarters by the 8 November. It was part of the party's overall direction of consultation with its electorate before entering a power-sharing assembly.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ian Paisley, Jr. scandal:

There was continued controversy over the summer of 2007 over the nature of the relationship between Mr Paisley and property developer Seymour Sweeney. On 11 September 2007 North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA, Daithí McKay, used parliamentary privilege to name Sweeney as a member of the DUP in the Assembly, and suggested that there was a strong "conflict of interest" between Mr Sweeney's membership of the DUP and a DUP Minister's decision to "be of a mind" to approve Mr Sweeney's application for a Visitor Centre at the Giant's Causeway. Questions were raised during an edition of Spotlight (NI) on 23 September 2007 as to whether or not Mr Paisley had acted improperly when lobbying for Mr Sweeney regarding the Giant's Causeway visitor centre. It has also emerged that Mr Paisley bought one of a series of houses built in Bushmills by Mr Sweeney (at full market value) after a local councillor and the previous landowner had been told that planning permission would not be granted for a development of more than two houses on that site.

After a series of public blunders and further controversy in February 2008 following scrutiny on the employment of family members by politicians after the Derek Conway scandal when it emerged that Mr Paisley was on his father's payroll as a researcher in the constituency of North Antrim in addition to his roles as an MLA and a Junior Minister.

As a result of the scandal Paisley resigned his Junior Minister position on 18 February 2008.

Robinson leadership:

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". 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.

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. 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. 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 admitted infidelity with a 19 year old Roman Catholic man, and alleged serious financial irregularities associated with the scandal. 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.

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.

Ideology:

The party is soft eurosceptic.

Homosexuality:

The DUP has been described as an "anti-gay party" by Pink News and as having a "near pathological obsession with all things gay" by The Observer. In 1976, its leader Ian Paisley campaigned to "Save Ulster from Sodomy" by maintaining the laws that defined anal intercourse and any sexual contact between men as crimes. Later, some DUP MPs have spoken out against homosexuality in different ways, while tending to avoid outright calls to punish or discriminate against gay people.

In 2005, DUP Councillor Maurice Mills claimed that Hurricane Katrina was sent by God to the United States as an act of judgement upon those who practise sodomy.

In the same year, The Sunday World reported that the DUP's then Westminster candidate Paul Berry had allegedly met a male masseur in a Belfast hotel. Mr Berry later confirmed he was "there for a sports massage". He later resigned from the DUP.

In May 2007, Ian Paisley, Jr. was criticised for stating during an interview that he was "repulsed" by homosexuals. In this instance, the DUP claim that there was no suggestion of any form of discrimination in any of Mr Paisley Jr's comments though the SDLP's equality spokeswoman, Dolores Kelly, requested that the assembly censure Mr Paisley. At the time he was a Junior Minister in OFMDFM with responsibility for equality.

In February 2008, councillor Edwin Poots condemned gay rugby team the Ulster Titans calling it a form of "apartheid". The Lisburn councillor had also tried to ban Civil Part-nerships from taking place in Lisburn Civic Centre. Councillor Poots, who is also a Stormont MLA, was also involved in a row over funding events such as Gay Pride. Despite strong opposition from within his Church, his party were bound by equality legislation to provide the funds.

In June 2008, Iris Robinson made controversial comments on the Stephen Nolan breakfast show on Radio Ulster, saying that "I have a very lovely psychiatrist who works with me in my offices and his Christian background is that he tries to help homosexuals - trying to turn away from what they are engaged in". The psychiatrist in question, Dr Paul Millar, later resigned from his post as advisor to Robinson and from his post as consultant psychiatrist at Belfast's Mater Hospital. A few days later in Westminster, Robinson stated that "There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children". Robinson claimed she was "misrepresented", however Hansard staff reported this to be a statement of fact.

In October 2008, Peter Robinson MP, the First Minister of Northern Ireland backed his wife's claims stating "It wasn't Iris Robinson who determined that homosexuality was an abomination, it was The Almighty. This is the Scriptures and it is a strange world indeed where somebody on the one hand talks about equality, but won't allow Christians to have the equality, the right to speak, the right to express their views".

By January 2009, the Police Service of Northern Ireland advised that it was forwarding a case against Mrs Robinson to the Public Prosecution Service. It is alleged that she twice contravened Article 9 of the Public Order Act 1987 by using threatening, abusive or insulting words which have the likelihood to stir up hatred and arouse fear.

The police found that no offence had been committed and on 20 March 2009, the Public Prosecution Service confirmed that Robinson would not be prosecuted for her com-ments.

Creationism:

In 2007, two DUP members raised the issue of creationism and intelligent design, questioning the availability of materials and resources for schools wishing to teach alternative theories to the evolution. Additionally, one of these members, MP David Simpson, asked for assurances that students who gave creationist answers to examination questions would not be marked lower for it. A spokesman for the DUP confirmed that these views are consistent with party policy.

In May 2010, Nelson McCausland (the Culture Minister and the party's North Belfast MLA) asked Northern Ireland's museums to include creationism in their exhibits. He was berated by Richard Dawkins (among others), who said: "If the museum was to go down that road then perhaps they should bring in the Stork theory of where babies come from. Or perhaps the museum should introduce the flat Earth theory".

Belfast Agreement:

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 terrorist 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. 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.

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

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. The activities of the IRA and the other paramilitary groups have been monitored by the Independent Monitoring Commission.

Leadership:

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'.