Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Inside the DUP: An overwhelmingly Protestant make-up, with just a handful of Catholics and no Muslims

DUP MLA Jim Wells hit out  against comments allegedly made by Dr Graham Ellison
DUP MLA Jim Wells hit out against comments allegedly made by Dr Graham Ellison

"I'm a Christian and that is why I am in the DUP. I'm not sure if I wasn't a Christian that I would be in the DUP."

These are the words of one DUP councillor to Professor Tonge's researchers.

The DUP emerges as an extremely religious party in a society where church attendance, though still high, is slowly falling off.

Peter Robinson, the party leader, who is one of the tiny 1.1% of members who belong to the Elim Pentecostal Church, sets the tone. When asked how much influence "church and faith" should have on its policies he draws a distinction.

"I don't think that the church should have any influence on it (DUP policy). People's own faith will guide them in terms of their outlook on life and therefore, from a structural institutional point of view, it (the score) should be a zero, but from a personal point of view, it should be 10," he says. Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader and a Free Presbyterian, sees the DUP as a party in the European Christian Democratic tradition.

Paul Girvan, an MLA who chairs the finance and personnel committee at Stormont, believes that "politics came about through religion. If you use the Ten Commandments you can formulate almost every law you will ever need".

Jim Wells sees the party as a brake on Northern Ireland "becoming less and less evangelical and Christian".

Just 2% of DUP members, compared to 10% of respondents in the 2011 census, say they are non-religious and it almost goes without saying that the form of religion in vogue within the party ranks is overwhelmingly Protestant. The Roman Catholic Church, of which 41% of the population of Northern Ireland are members, is our largest denomination, but despite efforts by the leadership to reach across the religious divide, only 0.6% of DUP members, perhaps six or seven people, are members of the Catholic Church.

Not a single DUP member out or the 75% who responded is a Muslim or a member of any non- Christian religions. That compares to 30.5% who are Free Presbyterians, the largest denom- ination in the party.

Its dominance is, however, slipping. Mainstream Presbyterianism accounts for 29.1% of DUP members, though 39.2% were born Presbyterians, and it is likely to become the main denomination in a few years.

Church of Ireland is next in popularity with 17.7% of members, Baptists and Methodists have 4.2% each, and the rest are made up of a scatter of small denominations like Brethren.

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