Click here for an updated version of this post, titled ‘Northern Irish politics explained’.
Northern Irish politics has always been complicated, and in order to understand it you have to first look at the region’s history of violence. You can attribute the IRA and their attacks, religious divisions and the splitting of Ireland in two to various political divides. It’s all reasonably complex, but this handy guide to the parties of Northern Ireland should explain some of what you need to know.
First things first: Ireland was a highly religious place. However, whilst Northern Ireland is mainly home to Protestants, the south is mainly home to Catholics. Following World War 1, when all of Ireland was part of the UK, there were calls to become an independent nation. As there were (and still) are more Catholics than Protestants, the Protestants in the north didn’t want to be ruled by a Catholic majority. As result, the nation was divided in two with the north remaining part of the UK and the south becoming the Republic of Ireland.
However, it wasn’t all happy days. There have been decades of conflict and just as things have been starting to settle down, Brexit has thrown a spanner in the works. But let’s take a closer look at the 3 main parties of Northern Ireland.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)
Led by Arlene Foster, the DUP believes in the ‘Union’ (i.e. staying part of the UK). It is a centre-right party and Northern Ireland’s biggest (making Foster First Minister of Ireland). It won 8 seats at last year’s UK general election.
Sinn Fein is, politically, the opposite of the DUP. It believes in uniting with the Republic of Ireland and as a result is traditionally associated with Catholics. The party is the political arm of the IRA and as a result has been linked with some of the organisation’s terrorist activity in recent years. Gerry Adam’s party is the second biggest in Ireland and won 4 seats in 2015. However, the party do not take their seats in the Commons as a vote of protest against the UK.
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)
The UUP holds similarly pro-UK views to the DUP. Its popularity has waned in recent years though and the party only won 2 seats last year. The UUP is typically thought of as more right-wing than Arlene Foster’s party, however, the 2 parties have fought some elections together before.
Northern Irish politics is an interesting topic and this is just a miniature insight into what’s happening there at the moment. However, Brexit has raised the possibility of a physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This has caused another source of conflict, as well as the fact that, like Scotland, Northern Ireland didn’t actually vote for Brexit. Watch this space…