Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Wednesday, October 14, 1998 Published at 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK

Northern Ireland Political Parties

The Rev Ian Paisley, founder of the DUP

Alliance Party

Founded in 1970, the Alliance Party is non-sectarian and broadly liberal. It wants a strong Northern Ireland Assembly with a high degree of devolved powers on the lines of the Scottish Parliament.

It has no MPs but six members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and is led by Sean Neeson.

[ image: Peter Robinson, DUP]
Peter Robinson, DUP
Democratic Unionist Party

The DUP was founded in 1971 by the Rev Ian Paisley and William Boal, an MP who defected from the Official Unionists in protest at the policies of the then Prime Minister Terence O'Neill.

Mr Paisley had previously been leader of the Protestant Unionist Party.

It currently has two MPs - party leader Mr Paisley and Peter Robinson after gaining 14% of the province's vote at the 1997 general election. Another prominent member of the party is Ian Paisley Jr.

The DUP won 20 seats in the first elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The DUP is more vociferous than the UUP in its defence of the union and regards any concessions to nationalists or the Republic as treachery. It is also strongly anti-Catholic in the religious sense, with Mr Paisley denouncing the Pope regularly.

It is opposed to the Good Friday Agreement.

Northern Ireland Women's Coalition

A non-sectarian party dedicated to a stable settlement and to promoting the role of women in Northern Ireland. It has no MPs but won two seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Progressive Unionist Party

The PUP is linked to the Ulster Volunteer Force, a banned paramilitary group.

As well as wanting the early release of UVF prisoners, the PUP dislikes what it sees as too many concessions to republicans during the peace process. However, it supports the Good Friday agreement.

Its leader is David Ervine. It has two representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly, but no MPs.

[ image: Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein]
Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein
Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein is a republican party devoted to establishing a united Ireland. It therefore advocates strong cross-border bodies and the maintenance of the Republic's territorial claim to Northern Ireland, though backs the Good Friday deal.

The current form of the party dates back to 1970 when Provisional Sinn Fein split off from Official Sinn Fein, which became the Workers' Party. This split mirrored the split in the IRA into Official and Provisional wings.

Unionists say that Sinn Fein and the IRA are strongly linked, but the party denies this and was angry when suspended from the peace talks in February after the IRA was blamed for two murders by the RUC.

Its two MPs are party president Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. At the 1997 general election, it won 16% of the vote.

Sinn Fein won 18 seats at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Social Democratic and Labour Party

[ image: John Hume, SDLP]
John Hume, SDLP
The SDLP is the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland. It won 24% of the vote at the 1997 general election and has three MPs, including party leader John Hume.

Mr Hume was instrumental in getting the peace process under way by holding talks with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and with the British government.

The SDLP won 24 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, making it the second-largest party. Mr Hume declined to become Deputy First Minister, allowing his own number two, Seamus Mallon, to take up that post.

The party is left of centre and favours strong cross-border bodies. It supports the Good Friday deal.

Ulster Democratic Party

The UDP has strong links with the banned loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Freedom Fighters. One of its central policies is the release of UFF prisoners.

The UDP left the peace talks in January 1998 after the UFF admitted taking part in the killing of three Catholics. If it had not left, it would have been suspended as parties are not allowed in the talks if groups to which they are linked take part in violence. The UDP was re-admitted in February and signed up to the deal.

The UDP leader is Gary McMichael. It has no MPs and to the surprise of many failed to win any Northern Ireland Assembly seats.

Ulster Unionist Party

The UUP is the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland with 10 MPs. Its leader is David Trimble, who took over from James Molyneaux in 1995. At the 1997 general election, it won 33% of the popular vote.

It took 28 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, making Mr Trimble the First Minister.

The UUP was formerly the Official Unionist Party, and as such it formed the government of Northern Ireland from 1921 until 1972, when direct rule from London was imposed.

The central plank of UUP policy is maintaining the link between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. It is willing to tolerate North-South bodies as long as they have no executive powers.

Mr Trimble was instrumental in signing the Good Friday deal, but many members of his party including some MPs remain opposed.

United Kingdom Unionist Party

The UKUP was set up in 1995 by its sole MP, Bob McCartney, a former member of the UUP.

And although the party won five seats in the Assembly, one held by Mr McCartney, his four colleagues have left to set up a new party which they hope to call the Northern Ireland Unionist Party.

The breakaway group has promised to remain hostile to the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr McCartney supports the link with the UK and opposes any moves to involve the Irish Republic in Northern Ireland's affairs. His central premise is that Northern Ireland should become more British and remain part of the UK simply because the majority of its citizens want it that way.

The UKUP is opposed to the Good Friday Agreement.

The Workers' Party

A republican socialist party formerly known as Sinn Fein - the Workers' Party, It changed its name in 1982 in a bid to remove all associations with traditional Irish republicanism.

Operating on both sides of the border, it had six members of the Irish parliament in 1992 but they left to form a new party, the Democratic Left.

Its aim is to establish a socialist, unitary state in Ireland.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage |