The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) may only have 10 MPs, but they’ve risen to the forefront of British politics after the Conservative Party failed to obtain a clear majority in the 2017 General Election.
On 10 June, Downing Street announced that a “confidence and supply” agreement had been reached with the Northern Irish party. It later became clear that the details of any coalition deal were still being negotiated. Already, however, many have voiced opposition to any agreement, with hundreds of people descending on Parliament to protest, and many others writing letters to their MPs resisting the proposed coalition.
A key part of the problem is the DUP’s controversial views on human rights issues including climate change, women’s rights, abortion rights, and LGBT rights. Here are just a few quotes and policies from some of their leaders.
Ian Paisley Jnr MP on ‘Gay and Lesbianism’
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jnr is the son of the party’s founder, Ian Paisley, and took over his dad’s seat in the 2010 elections. The Unionist politician doesn’t seem too fond of LGBT rights, saying in a 2007 interview: “I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I think that those people harm themselves and –without care about it – harm society. That doesn’t mean to say I hate them. I mean, I hate what they do.”
Defending those comments on BBC Question Time in 2013, he said:
I am repulsed by many things. The actions and not specifically the individuals. I am repulsed by people who are not homosexual as well sometimes. I believe marriage is fundamentally about creating children, and who in turn, create society.
Currently, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where same-sex marriages are not legally recognised, and the DUP has repeatedly blocked attempts to bring gay marriage into the law. Speaking in 2016, DUP leader Arlene Foster said, “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.”
While the Human Rights Convention doesn’t explicitly oblige states to recognise same-sex marriages, we all have the right not to be discriminated against and the right to a home and family life, which covers marriage. The Human Rights Court has previously found that it was a breach of the right to a family life to exclude same sex couples from civil unions.
David Simpson MP and Jim Wells AM on Gay Marriage
Moving on to a different MP, but sticking with the same topic, we turn to the 2013 debate on gay marriage in the House of Commons. David Simpson, the MP for Upper Bann, declared he was against the bill as it wasn’t something Parliament should even be debating. He told colleagues:
This is not the jurisdiction of this House. This is not the jurisdiction of this Government, of any European Government or any Government in the world. This is an ordained constitution of God.
He added: “In the garden of Eden, it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Jim Wells, an Assembly Member for South Down echoed that sentiment earlier this year, saying the issue was a ‘red-line’ for the party.
Peter will not marry Paul in Northern Ireland. We will strangle that idea at birth if that’s what it’s going to bring.
Arlene Foster, DUP Leader, on Abortion
The right to be able to access safe and legal abortions is a crucial and emotive topic, covering issues such as the bodily autonomy of women and when the right to life begins.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom which denies women access to safe terminations. Women are not legally entitled to get an abortion, even if they’ve been raped, are the victim of incest, or if the baby is certain to die when it is born.
However, the DUP, which has long opposed abortion and any attempts to liberalise the law, vowed to keep the current rules. Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, conceded only that they would “carefully consider” pregnancies arising as a result of rape. She added: “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.”
Sammy Wilson MP on Climate Change
The environment and climate change are key human rights issues, with many countries’ constitutions including a right to a healthy environment. In the UK we have no such specific protection, but we receive some safeguards via the Human Rights Convention.
For example, wherever there is a harmful effect on a person’s private or family sphere because of the state’s failure to regulate the environment, there is a potential violation of the right to private and family life. Equally there might be a violation of your right to life due to environmental failings such as pollution. The UK is also a signatory of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This makes countries recognise “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. It includes taking reasonable steps to improve “all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene”.
East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson and former Environment Minister doesn’t believe, however, that we need to be concerned. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph in 2008 he said he remained unconvinced that man-made climate change was anything more than a con.
Most of the people who shout about climate change have not read one article about it. I think in 20 years time we’ll look back at this whole climate change debate and ask ourselves how on earth were we ever conned into spending the billions of pounds […] There is now a degree of hysteria about it.
With a Conservative-DUP coalition seeming imminent, it’s more crucial than ever to be educated about our human rights, and to stand up for them.
Want to know more about this kind of stuff?
- See our analysis on what this election result could mean for our human rights
- Read our piece on the winners and losers of the election