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DUP is no monolith – the factions that hold key to govt’s fate

Written to educate non-Irish readers, with apologies to Northern Irish readers for an explanation that will seem clunky to them.

Outside observers of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – at least those outside Northern Ireland – might consider it a monolithic entity: a single bloc comprising of members with unified views and aims.

In spite of it having only ten MPs, this would be no more true of the DUP than of any other political party – it has factions with different influences and agendas and the way those factions and their interests interact may hold the key to the future of Theresa May’s government and whether Britain’s suffering populace escape the Tories’ predations sooner or later.

The DUP’s Sammy Wilson has dismissed reports that the party has been in talks with Labour about the prospects for a parliamentary no-confidence vote in the government. But his stance will not be the only, nor even necessarily the ascendant, one among his colleagues. Below is an approximate breakdown of the constituencies represented by the DUP’s main factions – and some key representatives of each.

Essentially, according to insiders, there are three main unionist groupings: a) Scots who came over to Ireland around 2,000 years ago, who are anti-English
b) settlers from England who colonised Ireland in the 1600s – wealthy landowners and Ulster Unionist Party ‘Tories’.
c) working class urban Protestants – similar to any other working class community but bearing the scars of sectarian violence.

In broad brush-strokes, the groups and those who represent them are:

The evangelicals – c. 500,000

Wilson is a representative of the evangelical wing who adhere to traditionalist practices – shops closed and even play-park swings tied up on a Sunday, with a strong prohibitionist/temperance streak. This group, mostly of Scottish descent, is considered the most sectarian – and though they may hate Tories more than ‘Shinners’ (Sinn Fein), they probably hate Corbyn even more.

Working-class Protestants – c. 200,000

Belfast MP Nigel Dodds represents a strongly working class constituency with a traditionally strong Protestant base, many working in manufacturing in companies such as Bombardier, Shortts, Harland & Wolf.

Dodds is considered strongly invested in the peace process, because the Troubles killed more people in his constituency than practically any other. Additionally, his seat is at risk in the next election because of demographic changes and the growth of its Catholic population.

Many of Dodds’ constituent hold more liberal views on gay marriage and abortion in much the same way as any other working class person. They are generally pro-monarchy but instinctively despise the Tories and austerity and have suffered badly under the Tory assault on benefits.

Gavin Robinson, who represents East Belfast, is another with a working-class constituency, while Ian Paisley Jr – although a Presbyterian – has done a lot of work with unions to oppose austerity and is reportedly no fan of party leader Arlene Foster. Jim Shannon is said to be quite warm toward Corbynism.

Affluent Protestants – c. 100,000

The area to the west of the River Bann is a planter farming community with a ‘frontier settlement’ feel. Many of its residents actually of English heritage – as opposed to Wilson’s who are all Scottish – and has many wealthy Protestant farmers with large landholdings.

In the past, they would have regarded Wilson’s constituents with almost as much contempt as they had for Catholics. This area includes the constituency DUP leader Arlene Foster represents as an MLA – a member of the Northern Irish Assembly – and many residents are natural Tories.

In spite of the traditional hostility between them, there is some overlap with the views of Wilson’s base, such as their attitude toward gay marriage. 
Foster’s area usually returns an Ulster Unionist (UUP) MP rather than DUP, so she instinctive leans toward cooperation with the Tories.

The dynamics among these broad groupings and those who represent them make the DUP hard to predict – and mean that a pronouncement by one particular politician can’t be assumed to reflect the position or action that will eventually be taken.

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4 comments

  1. “a) Scots who came over to Ireland around 2,000 years ago, who are anti-English”

    Since the English only came to Britain around 1,500 years ago, seems unlikely. The Scoti were originally a tribe from the north of Ireland who colonised the west of scotland around the same time or a little later and called their lands Dal Riada.

    I assume that the Scots being discussed here are much more recent and that it’s a typo and should read 200 years! Also, on what basis do you describe them as anti-english?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%A1l_Riata

  2. 🙂 Yeah, I guessed the 2000 years thing might be a typo.
    For a motley bunch like that to stick together they must really, really, really hate everybody else.

  3. There is so much wrong with that information I don’t know where to start. Aside from the general comment that the DUP does indeed have internal factions and divides.

    Assuming the 2000 years was a typo that is still wrong because that would be the 1800’s. The bigger part of migration from Scotland was in the period 1650-1700 with a large wave in the 1690’s because of the widespread famine in Scotland in 1696-1698. This 50 years was the period when the Scots became the majority in Ulster. There was no single period of migration into Ulster in the 1800’s. The plantation did transplant some additional protestants population to Ulster but the bigger factor was just normal slow drift migration from England and Scotland over a period of hundreds of years.

    East Belfast is not simply a working class constituency. It is more diverse than that. Yes Ballymacarrett, Ballyhackamore, Tullycarnet, Dundonald, Orangefield etc are more heavily working class but there is also Knock, Stormont, Bloomfield, Belmont, Cherryvalley which are much more middle class.

    In the past East Belfast has had a significant Alliance vote. Dr John Alderdice came close a few times and from 2010 – 2015 Naomi Long of the Alliance was the East Belfast MP. In fact Gavin Robinson probably only beat her due to a pact between the UUP, PUP, UKIP and TUV not to stand in East Belfast.

    I could offer correction on the bulk of the rest of it but I will leave it there. Not to indulge in too much supposition but my guess is that came from a nationalist/republican source whose grasp of history is badly skewed and who in all likelihood has bugger all understanding of the DUP.

    Sorry to be pedantic but that just irritated me too much.

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