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Who are the DUP? The Northern Ireland party at centre of world interest

By Jonathan Bell

Interest in the DUP has grown since the party's influence in the UK Government put it front and centre of the attention of the world's media after Thursday's General Election results.

Northern Ireland politics was largely ignored from the election campaign by the British media, however, interest has never been so intense now the DUP holds the balance of power.

Due to the surge in interest there has been a huge demand in the back catalogue of stories relating to the party and the Belfast Telegraph has been the go-to organisation for some of those news stories.

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The search term 'who are the DUP' has been among the most Googled phrase since the election result.

Since Rev Ian Paisley founded the party in 1971 it has moved from the fringes of Northern Ireland politics to the number one party in the county holding the highest office in the land for the past decade. In the two elections this year over 200,000 people have voted for the party and its securing of 10 seats in the House of Commons - and with it sway with the governing party - is a record for the party.

Since power was restored in 2007, the DUP and its partners in the First Minister's office were hailed for bringing political stability and with it jobs creation to the region. They have also been instrumental in bringing the hit US show Game of Thrones production to Northern Ireland as well as the MTV European Music awards, the Giro d'Italia cycling event and the Open golf tournament to Portrush.

However, relationships soured between the two main parties with a series of disagreements, most notably over Irish language programme funding and the investigation into the Renewable Heating Incentive scandal in the run up to January 2016 which saw the late Martin McGuinness pull down the institutions. Following a snap election in March, the parties have been working to find agreement to return devolution to Northern Ireland.

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Arlene Foster is the third leader of the party since it was formed in 1971 by Rev Ian Paisley and succeeding Peter Robinson.

Paisley founded the party in opposition to what he saw as the increasingly liberal approach of the Ulster Unionists; the party of the political establishment since the state was founded in 1921 and for most of his career opposed devolution seeing it as the back door to Irish unity.

It campaigned against the Anglo Irish Agreement in the 1980s and in the 1990s the DUP pulled out of the talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement in protest against the decision to invite the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, to enter the negotiations.

The DUP opposed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. And when the Stormont Executive met refused to attend ministerial meetings in what became known as its "empty chair" policy.

With growing unionist unease it became Northern Ireland's biggest party in 2005 winning nine seats in the Westminster election.

It was not until an historic deal at St Andrews in 2006 that paved the way for the DUP to enter government with Sinn Fein. Both Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness earned the nickname of the 'Chuckle Brothers' given the friendship they built as they shared power. Indeed Martin McGuinness often talked of the close friendship they enjoyed right up until the then Lord Bannside's death. A film has been made of the pair's journey from IRA commander to political fire brand to friendship.

Under Robinson the party took a more pragmatic approach, moving away it away from its overtly religious base, although not entirely and adopting a more clinical business-like approach. It remains politically Conservative and is opposed to the re-definition of marriage which would pave the way for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK and Ireland not to make the practice legal.

Over the years the party has been embroiled in a number of scandals, the most recent being the Renewable Heating Incentive scandal which led to the collapse of the Stormont institutions.

The scheme offered an incentive for businesses to switch to the sustainable heating system but unlike a similar programme in England had no caps which led to allegations those involved could "burn to earn" from the scheme.

A projected £490m overspend was identified by the Stormont department and Arlene Foster, who established the scheme while Enterprise Minster, vowed to cut any over expenditure to zero. An enquiry into the scheme is being led by a retired judge.

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