Perspective: Standing up to the DUP
With the UK’s general election leading to a hung parliament in June, the controversial Democratic Unionist Party have gained political power and prominence in the media after being offered to form a coalition government with the Conservatives. Anna Cafolla is a London-based Northern Irish writer and a promoter for Room for Rebellion – an events series which raises money for pro-choice organisations. Here, she emphasises the danger of the DUP’s ideology, encouraging the UK to show more solidarity with the women of Northern Ireland.
On 9 June, the UK entered a bizarre state of limbo following one of the biggest election upsets ever. The Conservatives lost their majority – testament to the power of the passionate, youthful movement that mobilised behind Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. But now, the electorate is at odds with a prospective agreement that could turn the clock back decades: a minority Tory government propped up by the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party.
I grew up in a town not far from Belfast, just as the Troubles ended. I lived most of my life in a DUP stronghold – Jim Shannon’s Strangford – where being a young Catholic-raised woman with more progressive views (like many my age) wasn’t easy. Having lived in London for a few years now, I’m used to people zoning out when I complain about home’s tribal politics.
It feels almost surreal that everyone’s paying attention to Northern Ireland again. So many people scrambled to finally educate themselves on the evangelical DUP, which has wreaked horrors on so many in NI, that they crashed the party’s website post-election day. I’m not afraid to admit that at first I was quite incredulous: now everyone suddenly cares when, for so long, activists and campaigners from home have been fighting the bigoted political system upheld by the DUP. Now, I can hope that the party will be tackled viciously on the world stage for the hatred that they spew.
The DUP, founded in the 70s by a Protestant fundamentalist, has consistently upheld an anti-women, LGBT-hating, racist, hard-line Christian agenda that’s resisted the peace process, at the expense of the Northern Irish people’s human rights. Its party includes people who once mooed at women during an assembly session, who rolled out the shocking ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign when they opposed the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 80s.
In the contemporary sphere, the party has pushed the ‘conscience clause’ bill, which would have legalised discrimination against LGBT people and denied them services for religious reasons. Former health minister Jim Wells was forced to resign after suggestions that LGBT parents were more likely to abuse their children. From its most senior members down, rhetoric surrounding queer people has ranged from “an abomination”, “repulsive” and “disgusting, loathsome, nauseating, wicked and vile” to the argument that they “harm themselves and society”. Despite the fact support for marriage equality is growing in NI, the DUP continues to block it.
Though anti-choice views are rife across political parties in Northern Ireland, the DUP describes itself as “unashamedly pro-life”, denying people the choice even in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormalities. As the 1967 Abortion Act doesn’t extend there, people are forced to travel to access terminations in England and elsewhere – here, politicians show wilful ignorance. Today, women engage in court battles for procuring illegal but safe abortion pills – the DUP happily criminalise those who wish to control their own bodies and access integral healthcare.
A recent Supreme court decision upheld that people in NI can’t receive NHS-funded abortions*, and must pay for private treatment: at least 724 were forced to last year. It’s a move that was said to ‘respect’ local law, but highlights Westminster’s own disrespect and willingness to ignore those suffering.
As a member of London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign and a promoter with Room for Rebellion – an events series which throws parties in London, Belfast and Dublin to raise money for the Abortion Support Network – I have seen how truly contemptuous people are towards reproductive rights. At the same time, I’ve felt inspired by a real drive among progressively-minded people to campaign for body autonomy and free, safe and legal abortion access for all.
The DUP creates a dangerous place for anyone that’s not a straight white Protestant man. On a more clownish spectrum, its members have scolded Rihanna for intending to pose while undressed in a Bangor field for the We Found Love video, and pushed creationism in schools. They work to frame the world as a place where it’s not OK to love who you want to love or be true to your own identity, where people have to cross a sea of protesters outside abortion providers – or an actual ocean – and put themselves at social, mental, financial risk for control over their own bodies.
An agreement of any kind that would see the DUP and Tories unite would use minority and marginalised lives as political pawns. It would threaten peace as it’s known in NI. Whatever happens, we cannot allow a cold, anachronistic coalition of utter chaos. And if it fails, we must keep holding the DUP and those in power in Northern Ireland to account for how they continue to ravage human rights. Protest, talk, support the movements of brothers and sisters challenging establishments that are right there, across the water, seeking real change.
*Since this article was written, Northern Irish women have won access to free abortions on the NHS in mainland Britain, as of 29 June.