Meet the kingmakers: Here are the top DUP figures propping up the Conservative minority government

 
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The DUP will have a big say in government policy from now on (Source: Getty)

The 10 MPs of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) now hold the balance of power over the minority Conservative government, after the spectacular failure of Theresa May’s General Election gambit.

The knives are out for May and her team within the Conservative party, but for now it seems she will have a few months at least as Prime Minister before talk of a new leader gathers serious pace.

The Conservatives will rely on the DUP just to stay in government, let alone to achieve anything, with an informal “confidence and supply” deal almost certainly the way forward.

Read more: Confidence and supply: How does the Tory/DUP minority government work?

So who are the people who will decide whether May’s government collapses or fights on? Their histories reveal a mix of extremely capable and experienced negotiators – as well as an ultra-conservative bent on social issues which is already causing big problems with liberal Tories.

The DUP Launch Their Election Manifesto
Leader of the DUP Arlene Foster (Source: Getty)

Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster will be central to negotiations, despite the fact she will not actually be one of the 10 people propping up the Tory government. Foster is a member of the local assembly (MLA) rather than an MP, but she is still top dog in the party and a powerful figure in the minority government deal.

Foster actually began her career in the more moderate Ulster Unionist party (UUP), which has been the traditional Northern Irish Tory ally in the past, before defecting to the more hardline DUP in 2004.

Read more: Northern Ireland election draws to a close

She grew up in Fermanagh – in a constituency now held by bitter Republican rivals, Sinn Fein – and worked as a solicitor before politics.

Foster will be kept busy at home, however: she was also First Minister in the local assembly in Stormont until the administration collapsed earlier this year.

Foster herself played a key part in that collapse, which was triggered by the botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. The “Cash for Ash” scandal, in which millions in taxpayer subsidies made it profitable for people to burn fuel, severely dented Foster’s own reputation, but she remains a pragmatic politician when governing alongside Sinn Fein.

Deputy Leader Of The DUP Nigel Dodds Out On The Campaign Trail
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds (Source: Getty)

Nigel Dodds

The DUP’s top man in Westminster is deputy leader Nigel Dodds, who serves as MP for North Belfast.

Another DUP politician with a legal background, Cambridge University-educated Dodds is a barrister by trade.

Awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1992, Dodds is not averse to a tussle with the Tories: in 2013 he accused former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers of “deliberate deception” in Parliament.

Democratic Unionist Party Election Manifesto Launch In Antrim
Ian Paisley Jr in a London bus manufactured in Ballymena, part of his North Antrim constituency (Source: Getty)

Ian Paisley Jr

Son and namesake of the firebrand Presbyterian minister who founded the DUP, Paisley Jr has served as MP for North Antrim since 2010.

The unionist stronghold is one of the safest seats in the country – it was previously held by his dogmatic father – but the junior version has proven to be more flexible than Paisley pere, who was known as “Dr No” for his uncompromising negotiating style.

Read more: Former DUP leader Ian Paisley dies aged 88

An example: the DUP wholeheartedly supported Brexit, but they are at least aware of the issues the process of leaving the EU will cause Northern Ireland. In June last year Paisley said Northern Irish citizens should consider getting an Irish passport to keep freedom of movement after Brexit – a step his late father may not have backed.

However, on other issues Paisley is emblematic of the type of views that have alarmed senior Tories, including Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson: Paisley has previously said he is “repulsed” by gay people.

Ulster Unionist Leader David Trimble (L) alongside
Jeffrey Donaldson (right) 17 years ago with the late former UUP leader David Trimble (Source: Getty)

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

Another former UUP politician, Jeffrey Donaldson, is the MP for Lagan Valley who has served on the defence select committee in parliament. He joined the DUP with Arlene Foster in 2004.

He is perhaps best known for his opposition to former UUP leader (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) David Trimble’s signing of the Good Friday Agreement after having been an important part of the negotiating team.

Read more: Sinn Fein celebrates "amazing day" as it closes the gap on the DUP

Donaldson previously objected to what he saw as concessions to Republicans – although since those early days of peace the DUP has come around to dominate unionism and continue to rule Northern Ireland jointly with Sinn Fein.

Donaldson’s family was scarred by the Troubles, with two of his cousins murdered by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In the ‘80s he worked as infamous rabble-rouser Enoch Powell’s constituency agent.

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Sammy Wilson was a vocal Brexit supporter (Source: Getty)

Sammy Wilson

Sammy Wilson has been an MP since 2005 in East Antrim, having held various ministerial roles in the Northern Irish executive. Before that he was the DUP’s press officer. He has served on parliament’s Brexit committee.

Wilson has often courted controversy, saying that climate change is a hoax; his website says “the myth of climate change is based on dodgy science not proven”.

"Most of the people who shout about climate change have not read one article about it,” he told the Belfast Telegraph in 2008.

Read more: Trump announces intention to withdraw US from Paris climate change deal

During the EU referendum campaign Wilson was filmed by the BBC allegedly agreeing with a constituent that Brexit would help “Get the ethnics out”. Wilson denied he had done so.

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The late Ian Paisley celebrates David Simpson's electoral victory (Source: Getty)

David Simpson

Another 2005 entry to the House of Commons is David Simpson, who beat off David Trimble that year in a seismic shift in the balance of unionist power. Neither is the MP for Upper Bann a shy, retiring figure.

Simpson is a vocal opponent of gay marriage (brought into law by the Conservatives), saying the Bible shows Adam and Eve rather than “Adam and Steve”.

Read more: Gay marriage bill approved

Those views – which are broadly shared by the DUP, if not in that language – have already caused serious questions from Conservatives in favour of gay rights as they join forces with a party with strong evangelical Christian roots. Another example of alleged homophobia came in 2015, when former NI health minister Jim Wells said gay couples were more likely to abuse adopted children.

Simpson also had to apologise for a claim in election literature that he had visited Afghanistan to see British troops. The “printing error” occurred after the army could not find a suitably large flak jacket to cover the MP during the planned visit.

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