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Analysis: The DUP and its localist credentials

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The Conservatives’ new partner in parliament, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), is strongly represented in local government in Northern Ireland, where it holds 125 out of 462 council seats.

It is the largest party on six of the 11 councils: Antrim & Newtownabbey, Ards & North Down, Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, Causeway Coast and Glens, Lisburn & Castlereagh, Mid and East Antrim.

Northern Ireland’s electoral system means though that all its councils are under no overall control.

These councils are unitaries but many powers exercised by their counterparts in Great Britain are reserved to Northern Ireland’s devolved government, including education, personal social services, roads, housing, and transport.

The DUP is best known in Great Britain as a party of protestant fundamentalism primarily concerned with defending the UK union and religious issues such as opposing equal marriage.

It was formed in the early 1970s by the late Reverend Ian Paisley and has largely pushed aside the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party, which was historically the Tories’ ally.

In its general election manifesto, the DUP called for the immediate restoration of the devolved assembly at Stormont but made no direct reference to local government. It rarely concerns itself with internal matters in Great Britain. 

On economic issues the DUP is though more left wing than its conservative stance on social questions might suggest.

Its manifesto called for “a structured, long term, cross-government national reform plan” for Northern Ireland’s public services with increasing the use of social enterprises for delivery, and supported continued increases in the national living wage and “firm action against companies who fail to pay their staff [this]”.

The party supported Brexit but opposes the ‘hard’ variety of this, with its manifesto urging a “frictionless border with Irish Republic assisting those working or travelling in the other jurisdiction” and a “comprehensive free trade and customs agreement with the European Union”.

Launching the manifesto, party leader Arlene Foster did not rule out working with Labour as such but did refuse to work with its current leader Jeremy Corbyn, who the DUP believes was formerly a supporter of Irish republicans.

She said: “Given the record of Jeremy Corbyn over the last four decades I am certainly not neutral about who wins the general election and who is the next prime minister but, equally, I want the people of Northern Ireland to be taking many of the key decisions about our future - not a Conservative government at Westminster.”


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