Tory-DUP deal: Why are the Northern Irish unionists so controversial?

Agreement follows weeks of painstaking negotiations after Conservatives failed to secure Commons majority

Lucy Pasha-Robinson
Monday 26 June 2017 11:47 BST
Why the DUP is so controversial

Theresa May has secured a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) after shock election losses saw the Conservatives fail to win a Commons majority.

The deal comes after weeks of negotiations and will secure the DUP's backing on confidence and supply votes, preventing the weakened Conservatives from being brought down by motions of no confidence.

However the agreement has sparked a furious backlash over the DUP’s record on issues including LGBTQ+ rights and abortion, and how the arrangement could jeopardise Northern Ireland's peace process.

Here are some of the most controversial positions held by the party:

LGBT rights

Ian Paisley Jr, son of the party’s founder Ian Paisley, has previously called homosexuality “immoral, offensive and obnoxious” and said he was “repulsed” by gays and lesbians.

The party once championed a campaign called “Save Ulster from Sodomy”.

Former DUP health minister Jim Wells told a South Down hustings in 2015: “The gay lobby is insatiable, they don’t know when enough is enough.”

He also said children who were raised in a homosexual relationship were more likely to be abused or neglected. He later apologised for the comments.

DUP politician Trevor Clarke last year said he thought only gay people could contract AIDS or HIV, but has since admitted he "did not understand the stigma attached to it" and has campaigned for greater awareness and prevention.

Gay marriage

The party staunchly opposes same-sex marriage, believing in what they call the “traditional” definition of the union, and has vetoed several attempts to pass new legislation.

Speaking of the pro-marriage equality movement, party leader Arlene Foster said in 2016: “They are not going to influence me by sending me abuse – in fact, they are going to send me in the opposite direction and people need to reflect on that.”

She added: “I could not care less what people get up to in terms of their sexuality, that’s not a matter for me – when it becomes a matter for me is when people try to redefine marriage.”

Arlene Foster on gay marriage: "I believe in union between a man and a woman"


The DUP has long opposed abortion and any attempts to liberalise the law. Ms Foster last year vowed to prevent terminations being made available in Northern Ireland.

“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,” she told The Guardian in 2016.

Climate change

The party once appointed climate change denier Sammy Wilson as its environment minister.

Mr Wilson said it was a “con” to suggest humans had changed weather patterns.

He also said in 2014: “We are already paying through the nose for electricity because we go down the route of the dearest electricity possible through renewable energy” and are “putting our agricultural industry in jeopardy because there is no greater producer of greenhouse gases than cows.”

Evolution and creationism

The party counts a number of creationists among its senior members.

DUP assembly member for West Tyrone, Thomas Buchanan, last year endorsed an event promoting creationism to be “taught in every school”.

The event included presenting “the biblical case for the sound teaching of children” that will “offer helpful practical advice on how to counter evolutionary teaching”.

DUP politician Edwin Poots has expressed his views that the planet is a “young earth” created just 4,000 years ago.

“You’re telling me that cosmic balls of dust gathered and there was an explosion. We’ve had lots of explosions in Northern Ireland and I’ve never seen anything come out of that that was good,” he told the Radio Times.


Ms Foster was embroiled in a sexism scandal when she described Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern ireland, Michelle O’Neil, as “blonde.”

“I don’t want to be sexist because I can’t...” she told the Sunday Independent.

“Michelle is very attractive. She presents herself very well and she is – you know – her appearance is always very ‘the same’.

“You never see her without her make-up. You never see her without her hair [looking] perfect.”


The DUP was the only party in the Stormont power executive to campaign for leave.

However the party want to avoid a hard border with Ireland and has spoken against a “hard Brexit”.

Ms Foster 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.”

Renewable energy scheme

As environment minister, Ms Foster introduced a poorly-executed renewable energy scheme known as “cash for ash” that could result in the taxpayer footing a £490m bill.

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