Sinn Fein is on course for a historic victory in Northern Ireland’s general election after taking the most preferential votes.
As the count of the 90 Stormont seats continued Friday night, the Republican Party had won 16 seats, well ahead of the Alliance with four and the DUP and UUP with three.
Sinn Fein received 250,388 initial preferences, compared to 184,002 for the DUP and 116,681 for the Alliance party.
The party’s vice-president Michelle O’Neill was elected at the first count in Mid Ulster, while the leader of the Alliance, Naomi Long, led the poll in East Belfast.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was elected at the first count in the Lagan Valley.
He said he was pleased with his party’s performance at the Lagan Valley, adding that it was too early to comment on the bigger picture to say what the end result might be.
“I think it’s going to be very close in the end as to who will emerge as the biggest party,” he said.
“One of the most important messages for me is that unions simply cannot afford the divisions that exist.”
Ms O’Neill was surrounded by party colleagues and supporters as the result was announced at the Magherafelt counting centre.
She received 10,845 preferential votes and the result was greeted with great cheering in the counting center.
Speaking to reporters just before the announcement of her election, Ms O’Neill said she was “very grateful” to be with the people of Mid-Ulster.
Asked about the possibility of her taking on the role of first minister, she said: “It’s very early to say, let’s all count the votes. I feel very positive.”
She said Sinn Fein wanted to “work in partnership with others,” adding, “It’s the only way we can do much, much more for people here, whether it’s with the cost of living crisis or trying to fix our healthcare service.”
Ms Long, speaking in Belfast, dedicated her victory to her father-in-law.
“It’s been a good day for Alliance so far and obviously it’s been a good day for me personally in East Belfast and also for Peter McReynolds and we expect to hold the two seats there.
“It was quite an emotional campaign for me. I’ve lost my father-in-law in the past few weeks and we buried him yesterday.
“I just want to dedicate this win to him because without my family I couldn’t do what I do and without their support I wouldn’t be where I am.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that I did so well and I’m really looking forward to watching later today and seeing all my peers bring it home.”
The first MLA to be elected to the Stormont Convention declared an upsurge in the Alliance Party.
Kellie Armstrong was elected to the Strangford constituency by 7,015 votes in the first count.
The count will continue through Saturday.
Ulster Unionist Robin Swann, who was Northern Ireland’s Health Minister during the Covid-19 pandemic, was elected after leading the poll in his North Antrim constituency.
In North Down, independent candidate Alex Easton, who left the DUP last year, led the poll.
239 candidates ran in 18 constituencies.
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/05/06/local-elections-2022-sinn-fein-set-to-be-biggest-party-in-ni-assembly-16602305/ Local Elections 2022: Sinn Féin to be largest party in NI Assembly