Northern Ireland Political Parties

Democratic Unionist Party


POLITICAL ORIENTATION: The DUP claim to be "right wing in the sense of being strong on the constitution" and ""to the left on social policy".(BBC), but personally, I would put them hard right, especially when the fundamentalist beliefs of their leader Ian Paisley are examined (See

PARAMILITARY AFFILIATION: The DUP is not officially affiliated with any paramilitary organizations. There is, however, some unofficial speculation that there has been some contact between the DUP (or its leaders) and loyalist paramilitary groups such as the UVF (Taylor, 1999). This has not, however, been established as fact.

PRO/ANTI AGREEMENT: The DUP was strongly against the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and refused to participate in negotiations. However, in 2007 they signed on to the St. Andrews Agreement and are currently participating in the devolved assembly in partnership with Sinn Féin.

LEADERSHIP: Ian Paisley has been leader of the DUP since 1971, but he has announced that he will step down in June 2008 and will be replaced by Peter Robinson. (BBC)


PERCENTAGE OF INTRA-COMMUNITY VOTE: (Unionist voters defined as those who vote for the DUP or UUP) 66.8% (CAIN ) .

BRIEF HISTORY: The DUP was formed out of the Protestant Unionist Party (PUP) in 1971, by Ian Paisley and William Boal. The DUP was opposed to the Sunningdale Agreement, because it brought the "Irish Dimension" into the search for peace in Northern Ireland for the first time. They participated in the Unionist strike against O'Neill in 1974 that helped to force his resignation. Opposed to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, and all subsequent agreements that had an "Irish Dimension" (including the 1998 Belfast Agreement), the DUP has nonetheless won the majority of unionist votes since the 2003 Assembly Elections, making it the largest party in Northern Ireland. (BBC). In 2007 the DUP signed on to the St. Andrews agreement and is currently participating in the devolved assembly in partnership with Sinn Féin.

Sinn Féin


POLITICAL ORIENTATION: Socialist. A member of the Confederal Group of the European United Left and the Nordic Green Left.

PARAMILITARY AFFILIATION: Although SF denies this, there is little doubt that there is a close relationship between them and the Provisional Irish Republican Army (pIRA). This extends to an overlap of membership to a history of SF being controlled by the Irish Republican Army. There is little doubt this connection exists. A good illustration of this relationship can be found in a speech made by SF Director of Publicity Danny Morrison at the 1981 SF Ard Fheis (Annual Conference) when he spoke of the "dual strategy" of the Republican movement: "Who here really believes we can win a war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in one hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?" (Feeney, 2002).


LEADERS: Gerry Adams, President. Pat Doherty, Vice President. Rita O'Hare, General Secretary. Mary Lou McDonald, Chairperson. Margaret Kelly, Treasurer. Treasa Quinn, Treasurer. Rosaleen Doherty, Director of Publicity. (Sinn Féin)


PERCENTAGE OF INTRA-COMMUNITY VOTE (Nationalist voters defined as those who voted for SF or the SDLP): 63.2%. (CAIN)

BRIEF HISTORY: Sinn Féin (meaning "We Ourselves" in Irish Gaelic), was originally formed by Arthur Griffith in 1905. However, at its formation, Griffith imagined it embracing a form of Dual Monarchy as shown by the Austrian/Hungarian example. It was not until the Easter Rising and the 1918 elections that Sinn Féin was hijacked by the Irish Republican Brotherhood (later the Irish Republican Army (IRA)) and adopted firmly Republican principles. Sinn Féin dissapeared soon after the Anglo-Irish treaty (1921) and remained subserviant to the IRA until the swell of opinion from the Hunger Strikes (1981) and the subsequent electoral success (1982, 1983) brought them again to the forefront. Sinn Féin negotiated with the SDLP in the late '80's and early '90's in an attempt to form a "pan-nationalist front' which culminated in the release of the Hume/Adams papers (as they are generally known). Sinn Féin was an active participant in the negotiations for the Belfast Agreement. In 2003, they surpassed the Social Democratic and Labour Party, making them the largest nationalist party, and the second largest party in Northern Ireland.

Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)


POLITICAL ORIENTATION: Left. Member of The Party of European Socialists.


PRO/ANTI AGREEMENT: Pro-agreement.

LEADERS: Mark Durkan, party leader.


PERCENTAGE OF INTRA-COMMUNITY VOTE: (Nationalist voters defined as those who voted for SF or the SDLP) 36.8% (CAIN)

BRIEF HISTORY: The SDLP was formed in 1970 by Gerry Fitt and John Hume. In 1974, they participated in the ill-fated power-sharing Assembly and had six Ministers in the Executive. In 1979, SDLP leader John Hume was elected to the European Parliament in Brussels. In the late 80's, the SDLP began talks (both public and secret) with Sinn Féin in an attempt to reach a kind of "pan-nationalist" front. The public talks ended in failure, but John Hume and Gerry Adams continued talks behind the scenes well into the '90's. The Social Democratic and Labour Party was an active player in the negotiations that led to the Belfast Agreement (1998), and party leader John Hume shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the UUP's David Trimble that year for their work at negotiations. In 2003, the SDLP lost its foothold as the largest Nationalist Party in Northern Ireland to SF.

Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)


POLITICAL ORIENTATION: Center Right. The UUP has historically had a close link with the British Tories.

PARAMILITARY AFFILIATION: None. However, there is a close link (and has been historically) between the Orange Order and the UUP. While the Orange Order is not itself a paramilitary organization, there have been a good number of unconfirmed links between it and Loyalist Paramilitary organizations. Sir Edward Carson, the UUP's third leader, was also responsible for founding the Ulster Volunteer Force in 1912, a paramilitary organization that swore to fight against Home Rule if it was imposed. It is important to note, however, that this is not the same UVF that was active during the modern Troubles. UPDATE In May 2006 the UUP took the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) into its Assembly grouping in order to wrest a Ministerial seat away from Sinn Féin. The PUP has an official link to the paramilitary UVF.

PRO/ANTI AGREEMENT: Pro-agreement.

LEADERS: Sir Reg Empey, Party Leader.


PERCENTAGE OF INTRA-COMMUNITY VOTE: (Unionist voters defined as those who voted for the DUP or UUP) 33.2% (CAIN)

BRIEF HISTORY: The Ulster Unionist Party was established in 1905, as an alternative for those against Home Rule. It reigned over Northern Ireland from partition in 1921 until Direct Rule was imposed in 1972, holding complete control of the Stormont Regime. It worked to gerrymander the districts within Northern Ireland to ensure unionist majorities even in those districts that had a numeric Nationalist majority. The UUP was an active participant in the negotiations for the Belfast Agreement, and its leader, David Trimble, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the SDLP's John Hume in 1998 for their work towards peace. In 2003, the UUP lost its foothold as the largest Unionist party in Northern Ireland to the DUP. (BBC)

Alliance Party

Claims to be a cross-community party, but is de facto moderate Unionist (although they would dispute the label).



PRO/ANTI AGREEMENT: Pro-agreement.

LEADERS: David Ford, Party Leader.


BRIEF HISTORY: The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland was founded in 1970 to provide a non-sectarian party that did not buy in to the Unionist/Nationalist dichotomy. Despite that, Alliance has always been a 'soft' Unionist party - believing that the Union with the United Kingdom better safeguards the rights of citizens of Northern Ireland. Alliance MLA's temporarily designated Unionist in 2001 in order to support the First Minister and uphold the devolved assembly, although this was a temporary designation. (Brittanica

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